This didn't suit Tiernan. "So me and this other guy jumped ship," he said. "Best move I ever made in my life, coming to this country.
"At that time, they needed seamen in this country, so we joined the U.S. merchant marines. Within two days, I had my union papers and my Coast Guard papers. I didn't even have a Social Security number. I just made one up."
In 1951, Tiernan got his U.S. citizenship, eventually settled in the Baltimore area and met Sharon, his wife of 30 years. After retiring from the U.S. merchant marine, he spent a number of years captaining tugboats in the Baltimore harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.
For 40 years, until he retired at age 75, he and his son owned and operated C.A. Norris Marine Contractors, a marine construction company.
"I was brought up on the water, spent my whole life on the water," he said. "I love it. The house that I've lived here in Pasadena for 62 years is on the water."
During the first Gulf War, Tiernan, at age 63, found himself briefly back in the merchant marine.
"They needed seamen," he said. "They asked me to volunteer, and I did. They flew me over to Haifa, in Israel, and put me on a tanker carrying aviation fuel."
It tickles him to recall he was serving under a captain who was 21 years his junior.
Tiernan is an affable man, but one thing sticks in his craw after all these years, even after his Arctic Star Medal came in the mail.
It's annoying to him that he has to remind people that more than 14,000 men perished while serving on the Allied merchant ships during the war.
"Even though I can't join the VFW, I go there quite a bit, and sometimes I tease the other guys," he said. "I tell them, 'Look, I know you guys served overseas, but who brought you your clothes, your cigarettes, your ammunition, your tanks, your towels, your soap, your toothpaste? The Coast Guard didn't do it. The Navy didn't do it.' "