(WBIR - Knoxville) Robert Sharp grew up in landlocked East Tennessee but spent his late teens and twenties aboard ship making trips back and forth across the Atlantic to resupply U.S. troops in Europe.
"I loved the sea, loved the water," said Mr. Sharp.
It wasn't until seven decades after his service that he learned the four year stint he spent in the Merchant Marines qualified him as a veteran.
"It was a big surprise, something I didn't feel like I deserved," said Mr. Sharp.
The civilian group of seamen fell under Navy control during the war. But thousands of those seamen sailed into hostile waters unarmed. And Merchant Marines in World War II ended up with a higher percentage of men killed than any other branch of service.
In addition to the on-camera interview Mr. Sharp agreed to answer the following 10 questions about the impact his role as a Merchant Marine had on the rest of his life. Later in life he worked as a farmer and livestock dealer in addition to dabbling in real estate. The last time he was aboard a ship was 1949.
1. What one person influenced you most in life?
I guess my father. I just honored everything he did. He taught me farming and dealing with livestock.
2. Do you feel honored and respected for serving your country?
Yes I do.
3. How can people thank you for your service?
They don't need to. It was honor for me to do it.
4. How do you honor your fellow service men and women?
I try to support them every way that I can.
5. How do you think this generation of military men and women is different or similar to yours?
In general the younger generation may not realize the importance of the military. Vietnam and the Korean War didn't get the respect they deserve. That could be part of it.
6. What influence did your in the Merchant Marines have on the rest of your life?
It may have made me a little more independent. I'm sure I had more respect for the military.
7. Does your family have a history of military service?
Yes. My brother and uncle served in the Navy. One brother in the Air Force and another brother in the Army.
8. Would you encourage younger generations in your family to join the service?
I believe it would be a great thing if we all had to serve two years in some branch of the military. I think it maybe would help the next generation.
9. Has your service changed your opinion of war?
It makes you appreciate the freedom and the liberty that we have. There is no other country like it and we are the greatest country there is.
10. Did your military experience shape your religious faith?
I'd say it did. I've got more respect for Christian people. I've got more respect for the liberty of the system of government and the freedom of religion.