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August Francois Douvener


August is on the right.

August Douvener was born in Forbach, France in 1896. He emigrated to New York at age 13 with his mother Thérèse Christ. He was enrolled in the Union Chrétiene de Jeunes Gens de Langue Française de New York, the French Branch of the Y.M.C.A., where he received an excellent report (November 1911). “In the past year we were able to study him closely in all lines and may state that August is a bright, intelligent boy of good moral character, energetic, clever and very handy. We take pleasure in recommending him to those who may need his services, sure he will be a faithful employee.” A handwritten note says, “August speaks English and German fluently and understands French!”

August quickly set his sights on higher education which would prepare him to sail the seas. He worked as an apprentice for a De La Vergne Machine Co. in New York, a company specialized in making oil, steam and gas engines for boats and railroads while he studied mechanical engineering at the International Correspondence School in Brooklyn. His subjects included Steam Turbines, Steam Engine Design, Pneumatics, Boiler Settings and Chimneys, Heat, and Entrophy and Steam. He completed his course work in May 1915 at nineteen years old and then set sail for one year on the S.S. Chipana.

On March 22, 1920, he joined the crew as an engineer on the steamship SS Santa Cecilia from Baltimore, Maryland. He went on two voyages the first (March 22- Oct. 13. 1920) as a Third Assistant Engineer and the second as Second Assistant Engineer (Oct. 13, 1920 – Feb. 2, 1921). He received an excellent review: “He is a thoroughly competent engineer, at all times reliable and strictly sober in his habits and now leaves this vessel of his own accord, being transferred to another of the Company’s steamers. Oct. 18, 1921, August Francois Douvener became a naturalized citizen.

The sea continued to call young August. From 1921 until 1925, he served as 1st, 2nd. 3rd Assistant Engineers aboard the SS Ponce, a passenger New York Porto Rico Line and other steamships that plied the Caribbean. Finally, he landed the position as Chief Engineer for a Cuban line in 1924 at 28 years old.

Marriage on November 18, 1923 and an interest in spending more time with his wife may have prompted August to accept a position as Supervisor in the Fletcher Ship Yard in Hoboken. He worked there for five years from 1925-1930. His daughter Dorothy was born April 20, 1927.

In July 1930, August set sail again, this time from New York to Liverpool. In 1933, he worked for the Isthmian Steamship Company, a shipping company founded by US Steel in 1910. August Douvener sailed aboard these cargo ships to far off ports of call such as Singapore, Hawaii, Cape Town, and Japan.

Isthmian cargo ships eventually were used in World War II by the Merchant Marines to transport troops and cargo around the world. At 42 years of age, August was certified by the United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection to be licensed as a chief engineer for steam vessels. August 10, 1940 he was appointed to the Naval Reserve and assigned to the Merchant Marines for engineering duties and given the rank of Lieutenant.

August sent a letter to his daughter Dorothy dated Oct. 8, 1942 that she never received but was later recovered, saying “It will not be very long before we will return. This is all I can tell you at the moment. Love to all and hoping to see you soon. Dad”

The following day, Oct. 9, the SS Steel Navigator left Liverpool headed to the US in a convoy of 36 ships in the war effort. Halfway between across the Atlantic Ocean, the ship was torpedoed, the boilers exploded and August Francois Douvener perished Oct. 19, 1942.

Nov. 16, 1942, his wife Catherine Douvener received a telegram stating: “The Navy Department Deeply regrets to inform you that your husband August Frank Douvener was killed at sea following action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. The Coast Guard extends to you its sincerest sympathy in your great loss. …………” In shock, probably denial, my grandmother ripped up the telegram. My mother pieced it together and taped it. It still exists today nearly 80 years later.


The original telegram.


The telegram's message.

In a ceremony on May 22, 1944 at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York, Catherine Douvener received the Mariner’s Medal for husband who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.

-- Susan M. Varlamoff (2021)

Mrs. Catherine Douvener receives Mariner's Medal, May 22, 1944, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York.

Reverse side of photo.

Program from the National Maritime Day cermonies.

Program from the National Maritime Day cermonies (cont).

Program from the National Maritime Day cermonies (cont).

Program from the National Maritime Day cermonies (cont).

Isthmian Steamship Company letter to Mrs. Catherine Douvener from survivor, Second Officer Donald Gilbert Allen.
A year later, he would perish in a Japanese torpedo attack as a USN Ensign aboard the USS Liscome Bay.

Handwritten note and poem from August's union brothers at the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association (M.E.B.A.) Local #33. At that time, Local #33 met at 227-229 Fulton Street, NYC, about where One World Trade Center is today.

A Tribute to Our Pal

The hook is up, all is secure down to the last block and fall
As the stately ship moves out to sea, bound for the last port of call
And on the pier as she moves away there is scarcely a dry eye
Now down below in the engine room, our Gus is standing by
Your friends will miss you Gus, old pal, now you’ve gone to meet the Host
And at our evening gatherings we’ll drink this silent toast
Here’s to our absent brother, a true nobleman of God
His memory lingers in our hearts, tho he sleeps neath foreign sod
It’s not farewell, just Au Revoir and this goes for us all
We know we’ll meet you “out beyond” at that last port of call.

Fraternally, your pals the M.E.B.A. #33

Chief Engineer's License.

Reverse side of Chief Engineer's License.

August's appointment to the rank of Lieutenant, USNR.

Appointment in USNR.

Vision waiver.

The information and photos on this page are courtesy of Susan M. Varlamoff © 2021.
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