ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. — Ed Trester, a Brooklyn born 94-year-old St. Augustine Beach resident, is a life-long musician and Merchant Marine who is now being honored with the Congressional Gold Bar for his service.
“It’s what’s called a belated thank you,” says Trester. “Not (too) many merchant seamen left from World War II. Back in those days, 1943-44, the war was raging.”
At first, Trester tried to enlist in the Navy, but was turned away because he was still in high school but the Merchant Marines were looking for a few good men.
“They enlisted me,” says Trester. “I took a physical and I joined the Merchant Marines.”
The Merchant Marines are known as America’s “fourth arm of defense.” The all-volunteer group delivered billions of tons of food, fuel and equipment to troops, helping turn the tide against Japan, Germany and Italy. But it came at a price.
According to the U.S. Maritime Association, Merchant Marines suffered a higher per-capita casualty rate than any branch of the U.S. military — more than 9,500 members died and nearly 2,000 American cargo vessels were sunk.
Trester remembers a harrowing trip through the Straits of Gibraltar.
“That’s where two ships were torpedoed right off our stern,” remembers Trester. “One was a tanker that exploded in a fireball. That was a narrow escape.”
But because Merchant Marines are not a military branch, their work was often overlooked and did not receive benefits like the G.I. Bill or awards.
Trester co-authored a book called “Torpedoed For Life,” spelling out his feelings on the cover: “Washington’s total denial and injustice shown to Merchant Marine veterans since World War II.”
But now, Trester’s tune is changing
“What’s it mean to you to get that award,” asked Action News Jax Ben Becker. “I had a good life. I’m 94 and I think my experience at sea has helped me physically and mentally.”
Trester also leads a jazz band called “E.T. Swing The Thing” which performs at local spots in the St. Augustine beach area. He’s also the co-founder of the St. Augustine Jazz Society, which helps local students receive music scholarships.
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