Column: When Harry Livermore came back to Albert Lea – Part One

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2003

Despite what the Albert Lea Tribune reported in the May 8, 1918, issue about the death of Leo Martin Carey, his childhood friend and shipmate, Harry Livermore, did not also die when the U.S.S. Tyler was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 2, 1918.

This news article said 11 sailors died when the U.S. Navy ship was sunk. Yet, a 1969 booklet issued by Leo Carey Post 56 of the American Legion says just five sailors died when the U.S.S. Tyler was torpedoed. Harry was likely one of the six lucky sailors.

Harry came back to Albert Lea several weeks later and his visit was featured in the May 31, 1918, issue of the Tribune with the following report:

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&uot;Harry Livermore, who had a thrilling escape from the steamship Tyler when it was torpedoed off the coast of France a short time ago, was in Albert Lea Friday.

&uot;Harry was a very dear friend of Leo Carey of this city, who was also radio man on the Tyler, and lost his life when the boat went down. Mr. Livermore is on a furlough and came to Albert Lea from his home at Garner, Iowa, to see Leo’s folks and tell them what he knows of the awful disaster.

&uot;Elmer Cassem, of Cassem’s Cafe, informed the Tribune that Harry was in the city, so we are indebted to Mr. Cassem for the following interview with Harry:

&uot;Harry said: I can’t tell you much for I don’t want to give out any information that I should not. We were crossing on the steamship Tyler from Canada to Genoa, Italy, with a cargo of wheat. We made our trip safely across and were off the coast of France on our return trip in the early evening when a torpedo struck the prow of the boat. It struck a glancing blow and did not explode. All knew that we were being chased by a foe U-boat. Our convoys kept a sharp lookout but only once or twice did they sight the periscope and then not but for an instant at a time. Three radio men were operating on the Tyler. Leo and I worked side by side. We retired early that night. Leo’s bunk was directly over mine.

&uot;About two o’clock a periscope was discovered by the watchman very near our course and the danger signal was sounded. Instantly Leo and I were up and on the floor. Leo slipped into his clothes and was putting on his shoes when he said to, me — well, I can’t tell a newspaper man what he said for no information of that sort can be given — at any rate, I believe Leo knew that the ship was doomed. He was perfectly cool, but he must have had a premonition that his time was at hand. At this moment two explosions occurred under us. The Huns (Germans) had accomplished their purpose. We were struck in the center by two torpedoes. We were both thrown out of our room by the rolling of the boat. An officer came along and ordered Leo to life saving station to the aft of the ship. I was ordered to my post. I never saw Leo again. Some of the boys say that they talked with him at the life saving post, but what he said to them is not to be told at this time.&uot;

There will be more of Harry Livermore’s narrative about his surviving the sinking of a U.S. Navy ship during World War I in next week’s column. Meanwhile, I have two added comments regarding last Sunday’s Lifestyles article about Leo Carey.

First, I never did find a newspaper obituary for the first member of the armed forces from Freeborn County to die while on active duty during World War I. There were two weekly newspapers and the daily Tribune serving Albert Lea in May 1918. Yet, the fact that Leo Carey died at sea and no body was ever returned to the city may have been a factor in not having a real obituary.

Second, there was a real challenge to find his mother’s first name. In that era it was the custom to refer to a married couple as Mr. and Mrs. and just use the man’s name, or refer to the wife as Mrs. James Carey, for example. It took some further research to reveal the fact that Leo Carey’s mother’s first and middle names were Mary Ellen.

Tribune Feature Writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Friday in the Tribune.