Mar. 14–PANAMA CITY — Although it has been 77 years since his ship was torpedoed and sank in the Mediterranean, relatives of the late Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Wheeler Raymond Ervin said they are thrilled the U.S. Navy has decided to formally present them with the medals he earned in combat during World War II.
“I am kind of overwhelmed,” said Panama City resident Nicole Ervin Parker, who along with her late mother had spent more than a decade seeking her father’s medals. “I’m so excited they followed up on it.”
Nicole, her husband, Terry Parker, and 11-year-old son Kristopher will receive Ervin’s Purple Heart medal, the Navy Commendation Medal with “V” insignia for valor, and other decorations this morning at a ceremony at Naval Support Activity-Panama City. Commander Jay Sego, officer in charge of the base, will present the awards on behalf of the Navy.
The Navy Department’s Board of Decorations and Medals has, during the past two decades, reviewed the wartime records of the 3.4 million men and women who served in World War II to ensure that they, or their family members, receive the medals and awards they had earned.
A native of Chicago, Ervin at the age of 17 enlisted in the Navy on Jan. 15, 1943, and after boot camp and gunnery training was assigned to the Naval Armed Guard, a component of the service whose members served as gunners aboard armed merchant ships. Assigned along with 29 other sailors to the 7,176-ton liberty ship William W. Gerhard, Ervin was wounded during a German air attack on the ship in the Mediterranean in August 1943 — one of two air raids that he and the other gunners successfully drove off.
The following month, while the William W. Gerhard was traveling in a convoy about 45 nautical miles south of Salerno, Italy, the German submarine U-593 torpedoed and seriously damaged the ship, which was carrying 191 passengers in addition to its crew of 46 and the 30 naval gunners on board. Two men were killed but the other 265 personnel aboard safely abandoned ship. An attempt was made to tow the stricken vessel to port, but it later caught fire, exploded and sank.
Ervin subsequently served aboard two amphibious ships, the USS LST-491 and USS LST-264, stationed at Little Creek, Virginia.
Nicole Parker said she and her late mother, Laverne Ervin, spent more than a decade writing officials in an effort to locate her father’s wartime records after his passing in 1980.
“My dad never talked about anything he did while in the military,” she said in an interview. After his discharge in 1946, Wheeler Ervin got on with his life and never looked back, she said.
But as her son grew up, Nicole said she felt a strong desire to find out everything she could of her father’s wartime service so that Kristopher, a fifth-grader at Bay Haven Charter Academy, could learn about the kind of person his grandfather was. She hopes that in addition to today’s ceremony, the Navy will help Ervin’s family recover his full wartime records package.
“I’m kind of sad because my mother isn’t here, but this (ceremony) is for my son,” she said. ___
This article is written by Ed Offley from The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.