It was a windy, choppy March day on the sea, which was more dangerous than usual for civilian ships lately — thanks to the German U-boats that now lurked beneath the waves.
And the worst fears of everyone aboard the SS City of New York came true when a lookout spotted a torpedo bulleting through the water towards the vessel. It struck the port side, and the many passengers aboard had only minutes to abandon ship.
Now, nearly 80 years later, a Minnesotan is being recognized for his role in giving those passengers a fighting chance.
On Friday, 99-year-old William Carlson was awarded the Convoy Cup medallion for his actions aboard the City of New York on March 29, 1942, a fateful day that saw the merchant vessel dipping beneath the waves off the coast of North Carolina.
The ceremony took place at the Honorary Consulate of Norway in Minneapolis, where members of the International Ship Masters Association, American Merchant Marine Veterans and Carlson's family and friends were on hand.
Carlson was a member of the Navy Armed Guard, whose mission was to protect merchant ships from Axis forces during WWII.
Aboard the City of New York, he fulfilled that mission. According to Fox 9, Carlson "kept firing his machine gun as the ship went under," ultimately escaping the sinking vessel and swimming to a lifeboat, which he "helped command and navigate for 16 days" before rescue.
After the war, Carlson, aka "Captain Bill," served aboard "many ships sailing out of his home port in Duluth" as either a captain or engineer, the station notes.
The City of New York incident was also notable for a birth that happened as the lifeboats rowed away from the wreck.
The newborn, who came to be known as “the baby Hitler couldn’t get,” was named Jesse Roper Mohorovic after the Navy vessel that ultimately rescued the survivors.
As the Journal of Commerce notes, Mohorovic's unusual birth gained him lifelong fame, with newspapers covering his baptism, his first and third birthdays and even his wedding.
He also appeared on the TV game shows "I've Got A Secret" and "To Tell The Truth," the website says.
Mohorovic died in 2005 at the age of 63, survived by his children and grandchildren.