Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame

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Nelson H. Cornell

With the popularity of cruises today, one could consider Nelson H. Cornell's sixty cruises in forty years an ideal way to enjoy life. The fact that he experienced adventures beyond what most of us could imagine sets his cruises apart from the ordinary. Most were taken on board tankers and cargo ships between 1940 and 1980 in less than desirable circumstances. During World War II the ships navigated through submarine packs and mine-infested waters. They sailed into arctic weather conditions which necessitated the wearing of Zoot Suits over one's winter clothing and life preserver. These rubber suits were designed to help retain body heat for up to seventy-two hours in frigid waters.

Arriving in Liverpool and Amsterdam at the time they were targets of Germany's V-bombs created one more hazard for the crewmen. Cargoes consisted of wartime supplies such , as oil, ammunition, dynamite, bombs, landing craft, food and iron are.

There were some times of peace when Nels' assignments took him to Mediterranean ports in Italy and France, to Trinidad for bauxite to be taken to Alabama, to Germany and Norway with grain, to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. For an eight-year period his route was from the U.S. to Nigeria on Africa's west coast and around the Cape to Tanzania and Kenya on the east coast. The ship carried cargos of copper, fish, manganese are, and cashew oil, as well as a maximum of twelve passengers. Its special design and type of turbines made it possible to travel at a very fast speed--from New York to Cape Town, 10,000 miles, in ten days.

Through the 1950's, '60's and 70's, trouble in Vietnam, Korea, and the Persian Gulf necessitated the continued delivery of war supplies to those areas as well as to U.S. bases all around the world. Some ports of call were Okinawa, Japan, Bangladesh, the Aleutian Islands, Whittier and Haines In Alaska, Inchon, Venezuela and Thailand.

Nelson H. Cornell was born in 1917, the son of Captain Oliver N. And Mrs. Helen E. Cornell. He had one sister and two brothers. The family moved to South Toms River and Nels attended Toms River's elementary school where he remembers teachers, Mrs.Dorothy Jameson, Miss Reba Adams and Mrs. Emily Hecht. He completed high school in 1937. During his high school years he helped his father in repairing Admiral Farragut Academy's fleet of boats. It was there he learned to operate his first diesel engine on the old Navy sub-chaser, the Niwal.

He began his lifelong career in January 1941 in Philadelphia where he qualified for an engine room certificate entitling him to sail as Oiler, Fireman and Watertender, and Wiper. His first job was on a W.S. Army Engineers' sea-going hopper dredge which deepened the Delaware River from Camden to Newcastle, DE so the newly-built battleship Washington could make its way to the sea from the Camden shipyards. Additional schooling and certification through the years beginning with Officer Training School at New London, a course he completed in three months instead of the normal six, enabled him to progress from Oiler during his first two years at sea to a position as third, second, first or Chief Engineer on the remaining sixty-five ships on which he sailed. After completing OTS in 1943, Nels volunteered for the North Atlantic's dangerous Murmansk run.

Nelson Cornell earned service bars for the Atlantic, Pacific, Korean, Mediterranean-Middle East and Vietnam War Zones, a Merchant Marine Defense Bar, and a Victory Medal. He was commissioned a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Maritime Service and was honorably discharged from the US Coast Guard in August 1945.

After his long maritime service, Nels returned to Toms River and devoted his life to the principles of freemasonry through Harmony Lodge No. 18, F & AM. The Masons have recognized his community service with two awards: the 20th Masonic District Hagaman Award in both 1975 and 1995 and the Grand Master's White Apron Award in both 1990 and 1991. He served as Secretary for many years, has documented Harmony's membership since 1850 and has managed the collection of hospital equipment which is loaned to those in need. Mr. Cornell resides in Beachwood with Rose, his wife of thirty-five years, whom he met in Japan. Induction into the Toms River Schools Hall of Fame, the honor we bestow today, April 18, 1999, upon a very modest gentleman named Nelson Cornell, is richly deserved.


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