WWII Merchant Navy veteran honored for service and music to his ears – Action News Jax
ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla .– Brooklyn-born Ed Trester, 94, resident of St. Augustine Beach, is a longtime musician and merchant marine who is now honored with the Congressional Gold Bar for his services.
“It’s called a late thank you,” Trester said. “There weren’t (too many) WWII merchant seamen left. At the time, 1943-1944, the war was raging.
At first, Trester tried to enlist in the Navy, but was turned down because he was still in high school, but the Merchant Marines were looking for a few good men.
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“They enlisted me,” Trester says. “I took a physical exam and joined the Merchant Marines.”
The Merchant Marines are known as the “America’s Fourth Defense Arm”. The all-volunteer group delivered billions of tons of food, fuel and equipment to the troops, helping to turn the tide against Japan, Germany and Italy. But it came at a price.
According to the United States Maritime Association, the Merchant Marines suffered a higher rate of casualties per capita than any branch of the United States military – more than 9,500 personnel died and nearly 2,000 United States freighters were sunk.
Trester remembers a grueling journey through the Strait of Gibraltar.
“This is where two ships were torpedoed just off our stern,” Trester recalls. “One was an oil tanker who exploded in a fireball. It was a narrow escape.
But since the Merchant Marines are not a military branch, their work has often been overlooked and received no perks like the GI Bill or awards.
Trester has co-authored a book called “Torpedoed For Life,” explaining his feelings on the cover: “Washington’s total denial and injustice shown to Merchant Navy veterans since World War II.”
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But now the melody of Trester is changing
“What does it mean for you to get this award,” Jax Ben Becker asked Action News. “I had a great life. I am 94 years old and I think my experience at sea has helped me both physically and mentally.
Trester also leads a jazz group called “ET Swing The Thing” which performs at local venues on St. Augustine Beach. He is also the co-founder of the St. Augustine Jazz Society, which helps local students receive music scholarships.