Editor’s back story: Two years ago I met Mary and Nick Politis through TI Life. Mary suggested and arranged for me to interview Hugh Papworth and I spent a lovely day visiting Mary and Nick at their River home, on Carnegie Bay in Alexandria Bay and then again during a winter visit to Florida. Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Mary and Nick know they are generous hosts. In July 2015 Mary wrote her first TI Life article The Edgar Cayce’s 1000 Islands Link. She was fascinated that she could find links to important people who had links to the River.
This winter Mary wrote to say she had a new story, although not yet linked to the Thousand Islands. I persuaded her to share and it is presented now. I hope you will join me in thanking this sleuthing lady author for all her hard work and perseverance. Bravo Mary!
My husband and our son and I have spent 30 summers in the Thousand Islands and like many others, I am always amazed when I discover new River stories. This story is about my husband, Nick, and not about the River per-se, but when I told Susan Smith, editor of TI Life, about my discoveries she encouraged me to tell his story.
This year my husband had an appointment with a specialist in Syracuse, New York. While answering questions, he asked the doctor "What country are you from?" The Doctor said " I am from the Philippines". " Oh" my husband said. "I was there in 1962". The Doctor looked surprised. Nick then told him a brief story of why he was there, and that the ship he was sailing on sank! As doctors don’t have much time to spend with patients, nowadays, he did not tell the whole story.
After we got home, a thought came to me, “Why not look on the internet and see if I could find Nick’s Greek Merchant Marine ship, the one he was on when he travelled to the Philippines. It was the “SS Yanix”.
I must admit that I wanted to cheer him up and lo and behold, I did! I came across a video that a Navy veteran, Victor Heath, posted on YouTube. I was truly amazed that after 54 years, this incident of the sinking of the ship was right there for me to see! I showed my husband the video, to make sure that it was his “SS Yanix”. And much to his surprise he excitedly said, "Yes it is".
The video shows the “SS Yanix’s” sinking in the South China Sea, off Manila, in the Philippines. The “USS Stoddard” was one of the ships from the United States 7th Fleet that came to the rescue. All 29 crewmen survived, including the wife of the Captain. (Greek Merchant Marine allowed wives of Captains to live aboard, at the time.)
There was a photo of the lifeboat with crew members inside next to the sinking ship. Now that was amazing. What if one of the rescued sailors was my husband?
I tried calling Industrial Color Labs, to see if they could enlarge the photo, to see my husband more clearly. They said it was under copyright and I would need permission; they also thought the picture would be grainy.
I wondered if I could ask permission, to not only see the photograph, but also to share it with family and friends. ,
I was able to press forward by searching once again, this time hoping I could find a Victor Heath, his phone number and his address. On my second try I was able to reach a Heath, in Sandy Utah, as he seemed to be the right age. When I called, I found myself speaking to the same Victor Heath who posted the video on the “USS Stoddard.”
We exchanged pleasantries and information. "By the way " he said, " What are you doing in October? There is going to be a Navy reunion in Portland, Maine, and I invite you to it". My husband was familiar with Portland, as a ship he was on went there previously. I said " Thank you very much, we will see how it goes".
(The story gets even stranger. It just happened that our neighbors in Florida, had just moved to Utah. They were only seven miles from each other. I gave his name and phone number to our ex-neighbors and friends. They contacted each other on the phone and spoke a while. How nice!)
Through a church friend we were able to print the picture of the lifeboat and see my husband. There he was, 54 years later and now living in the Thousand Islands!
But I did not want to stop; so back I went for more history of the “SS Yanix”. The ship was a Liberty Ship, meaning it was built for use in World War II. The Greek company that had purchased it, had it refitted to carry cargo. Back in the 1950s and 60s young Greek men, in search of employment, found work in the Greek Merchant Marine. The country of Greece had little to offer young adults, so they hustled to find work in any way that they could. Even today Greece has the largest maritime fleet in the World.
Mr. Heath offered to send me notes of the personal journal he kept and shared a website with more pictures of the rescue: USS Surfbird sea stories. To my amazement, I saw more pictures. Mr. Heath gave me another sailor’s name and address, Art Paullus, who took the pictures. I was able to contact Mr. Paullus, who is located in Stockton, Calif. We shared web addresses and were able to contact each other.
And then just before this article was published, I received the names of all crew members from Elefterios Karamakis, the grandson of the chief engineer in 1962, for the shipping company. He was able to compile and share the list of names. So now we have the complete story of the “SS Yanix” and how its crew was rescued. And even more amazing, I have permission to share this with the “TI Life” readers.
Some people have said that the 1000 Islands is a 'Northern Respite'. It really is! It’s a haven from big cities, heat and crime. No wonder the Native Americans called this place "Garden of the Great Spirit"
Back to the US Navy. When I see the ocean freighters making their way through the St. Lawrence Seaway, I think back to the US Navy and give a big thanks and I continue to have respect for all they do and did in rescuing many ships at sea. I wouldn't have met my husband and married him.
Enjoy your Summer and all the wonderful people you meet along the way.
By Mary Politis
Addendum: After living on the River since 1986, I am still learning more and more history. My family says I’ve become a History Detective. I want to encourage people to do the same. I found one of the best places to visit is the Cornwall Brothers Jefferson County Historical Society Museum in Alexandria Bay. The lectures they present in the summer are both informative and interesting. Guess what I found this summer… yes all about Henry Heath, who was a Union Soldier and a Thousand Islands pioneer… This led me to the TI Life author Steven D. Glazer and who knows if I will find a link to my husband’s rescuer?
Uploaded on Jul 29, 2011
“My dad Victor Heath in his 1962 adventures aboard the USS Stoddard DD-566, includes mail drops, rescuing crew from the “SS Yanix” as it sank, refuelling and running with a carrier.”
Note: Skip to minute 6:47 for the Ship’s rescue
From Mr. Victor Heath’s Journal:
Feb 5 Monday, To start things off we got up early for we refuelled again around 6. We were on one side and the “Ranger” was on the other. It was a beautiful sight. We were the first ones alongside the tanker. We had just finished refuelling when our boss got an SOS relayed to him from C.O. Philippines and because we were the first ship refuelled, we were sent. It was a Greek ship SS Yanix. she was six hours away from us.
We were doing about 27 knots. We left the division at 8:00 and got to “SS Yanix” at 2:00. There were about five other ships around there. One was a small USN ship I think it was a mine layer. She had already taken 12 men off. We were escorting them to the northern tip of Luzon which was 35 miles away at 5 knots.
Their ship was carrying magnesium ore and the first hole was flattened and the walls were giving in on the second. They were riding very low in the water. The ship was a small ship. Well anyways we took them aboard after they had abandoned their ship. We stayed with it most of the night. We lost it on radar so we headed for Manila Bay.
In the early morning we were told to go back and make sure it had sunk. We went back but found nothing. We had requested permission to sink her but didn’t get permission, We were all set to shoot her with torpedoes. She was a danger to navigation. I had the watch as usual but I managed a few pictures. Those men had just about been out of this world, but now they were headed home. As of now there is no more “SS Yanix”, except over a 1000 fathoms down.
[Note: Both Don Gillispie and photographer Art Paulus gave permission to publish these photographs originally taken in 1962]
By Mary Politis
Mary Politis and her husband and son have a home in Syracuse, NY. and spend the summer in Carnegie Bay, near Alexandria Bay. Mary has been a TI Life reader for several years and is always on the lookout for unique topics and individuals to interview. Her discovery of the sinking of the cargo ship, “SS Yanix,” her husband Nick was on back in 1962, has taken her on this interesting quest.
Comment by: Maureen Left at: 12:50 PM Thursday, September 15, 2016
What an interesting story! It shows what can be found through diligent searching. It is so good that you found the people who could fill in gaps in the story.