Thomas Osman Jr.

The Baltimore Sun

Thomas Osman Jr., an American merchant marine engineer whose career on the high seas spanned more 30 years and three wars, died Sept. 13 of lung cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. The Baldwin resident was 84.

Mr. Osman was born and raised in Quakertown, Pa., and after graduating from high school in 1940, went to work for Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Bethlehem, Pa.

In 1942, Mr. Osman enrolled at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., and the next year he was a cadet aboard the Liberty ship Ward Hunt.

"We went to Europe in a 40-ship convoy," Mr. Osman told Ernest F. Imhoff, former managing editor of the Evening Sun and author of Good Shipmates: The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown 1942-2006. "First trip. It was pretty rough weather. Something must have happened with our mates one night. Morning came, and we were all by ourselves, bouncing around in the middle of the Atlantic.

"The sea was rough. Waves washed two of our lifeboats away. The U-boats were busy. As a single ship, we ended up on a northern stragglers' route to Belfast. We were lucky. In Belfast, we learned the Germans hit our convoy and sunk three or four ships," he said.

"It was the start. I sailed on more than 25 ships. It was always interesting, assistant or chief engineer. I sailed to many countries, never to Russia," Mr. Osman said in the interview. "My wife, Carole, was glad whenever I came home, but she knew the sea was my job. We had no children."

Mr. Osman participated in the invasion of Italy in 1943 and recalled the adverse wartime conditions he and his shipmates labored under trying to unload the ship.

"The Germans were still occupying most of Italy, so while we're doing this they're setting off bombs all around us. Took ten days to unload. We finally left and got back to New York," he said.

Mr. Osman who had earned his third engineer's license and was in the Naval Reserve, tried to join the Navy in 1944; after he was rejected because of nearsightedness, he remained in the merchant marine.

He was in the Pacific aboard a tanker when the war ended.

After studying at the Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Osman went to work as an engineer and later chief engineer for United States Lines from 1946 to 1960.

Mr. Osman went ashore in 1960 and worked for the next decade as a port engineer at Bethlehem Steel's Key Highway shipyard and Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., until shipping out again in 1970.

From 1971 to 1975, Mr. Osman made three or four voyages a year to Vietnam aboard ships that had been chartered by the military to deliver war materiel.

He retired in 1984, and, after the death of his wife in 1991, Mr. Osman was looking for something to do. So he joined his old colleague and friend from the United States Lines, Delacy "Cookie" Cook, who was also retired and working as chief engineer aboard the John W. Brown.

Mr. Osman spent the next 16 years working aboard the Liberty ship as night engineer, chief engineer, second assistant and third assistant engineer.

"Tommy was one heck of a find. He was also a good engineer and cheerful shipmate," Mr. Cook said. "He was also adept at fixing what needed to be fixed and keeping things rolling in the engine room."

Joe Carbo, another retired ship's engineer who worked with Mr. Osman in the Brown's engine room for a decade, remembered him as "a quiet, modest sort of guy" who was "a damn good engineer who had a world of experience."

It was characteristic of Mr. Osman to always be willing to "pitch in, give advice and use his expertise in helping solve problems. He was unflappable," Mr. Carbo said.

During his maritime career, Mr. Osman never lost a ship and "never lost his love of them," Mr. Imhoff wrote.

Services for Mr. Osman will be held at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 29 at the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Road, Rodgers Forge.

There are no immediate survivors.

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