Seaman 1st Class William B. Tinneny

Seaman 1st Class Bruce Tinneny. (Tinneny family photo)
Seaman 1st Class Bruce Tinneny. (Tinneny family photo)

Like many members of what Tom Brokaw calls "The Greatest Generation," Richard Tinneny's uncle Bruce didn't talk much about his World War II combat experience as a naval gunner aboard Merchant Marine ships. "He wouldn't bring it up," says retired Air Force Command Sgt. Maj. Rich Tinneny. "But if one of us did, he might tell a story or two."

Yet the story of William B. Tinneny — known as Bruce — was compelling enough to be made into a radio play for the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission's wartime show "Valor Knows No Creed." In 1996, his widow Dorothea gave her nephew Rich his uncle's personal diary from World War II. From these resources emerges a vivid account of a young seaman's combat experience.

After joining up at 17, Bruce Tinneny went through Navy basic training, then volunteered for hazardous duty as a gunner aboard Merchant Marine vessels on the Mirmansk run. These ships transported supplies from the United States across the North Atlantic, often to the beleaguered Russian front. The convoys were tracked and attacked by German U-boats. The SS Wynkoop, the ship on which Seaman 1st Class Tinneny served in February and March of 1943, was no exception. Tinneny's diary entries during these weeks range from the mundane — his roommate pesters him about cleaning up — to the poignant — he muses that the rising sun gives him a sense of security.

On March 11, 1943, however, the entry shows a shaken young man: "I hope I never experience another night like last one." In the early morning hours, the ship had struck an unidentified object, and some of the crew assumed the order to abandon ship. Lifeboats were lowered, and one was lost, along with the men who had boarded it. During this confusion, the engine room on the Wynkoop was left partially unmanned. Bruce Tinneny volunteered immediately for duty there. His award citation reads, "[he] performed a difficult and unfamiliar task in such a manner that the turbines were kept in operation and a vital cargo was delivered to an ally."

On March 15, 1943, the SS Wynkoop limped into Belfast Harbor under her own steam. Tinneny went on to further valorous wartime service. After the war, however, he returned quietly to the same Philadelphia neighborhood in which he'd been born. He planted his legs firmly on dry land, worked and raised his own family, and felt no need to talk about his experiences on the high seas.

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