Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.
Robert B. Ackerburg Correspondence, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
Robert B. Ackerburg joined the merchant marine during the Second World War, and attended the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy. In August, 1945, he boarded the M/V Cape Beale , a ship owned by the Lykes Brothers Steamship Company, for a journey to East Asia. By December 1945, the ship had reached Venezuela, and over the course of the next eleven months it traveled to Trinidad; Brazil; South Africa; Singapore; China; the Philippines; Papua, New Guinea; Panama; and back to the United States. Ackerburg served as a second officer during the voyage. After this journey, Ackerburg served in the United States Navy during the Korean War and attained the rank of lieutenant commander. Ackerburg maintained a love of ships and seagoing all his life, and eventually worked in marine insurance brokerage. He married a woman named Mary Louise and they had two children: Aleda L. Ackerburg and Adam B. Ackerburg. Robert B. Ackerburg died in May 2008.
Suzanne "Suki" Rochford (September 2, 1926-April 10, 2008) studied at Goucher College in Maryland during the 1940s. Around 1951, she married William D. Rogers, who was a top adviser to Henry Kissinger during the 1970s. The couple had two sons: William D. Rogers and Daniel R. Rogers.
The Robert B. Ackerburg correspondence consists of 32 letters written by Ackerburg to his friend, Suki Rochford, during his time in the merchant marine immediately following the Second World War. Ackerburg wrote in a lighthearted tone throughout his correspondence to Suki, and described everyday occurrences during the Cape Beale 's journey to East Asia in 1946. Ackerburg often focused on news of upcoming destinations, but occasionally admonished Suki for not writing often enough. On June 9, 1946, he asked Suki, "Not to be dramatic but haven't you heard how important mail was supposed to be during the war? The war may be over but everyone I know out here still thinks it's damned important." The letters implied a carefree tone throughout his service following the war, and the sailors on board the Cape Beale appeared to be of a jovial sort; Ackerburg reported the following exchange: "I spelled another stupid one tonight. We were in the chart room and he popped out with 'The Cape Palmas is going to Capetown and Ceylon.' I thought he said sail on. 'Sail on where?-' 'Ceylon-' 'Yes, but sail on where?'" (February 6, 1946). Ackerburg also focused on leisure time pursuits; these often focused on acquiring beer but occasionally involved other substances: "We had a chance to buy some marijuiana [sic] in Santos but gave up the idea because I would have had to roll my own cigarettes and if I mixed that the way I mix drinks I probably wouldn't be writing this now" (March 10, 1946). Throughout his time on board, Ackerburg read and spent much time lying about the deck, often reading. In April, he reflected on his experiences in the service, exposing anambivalence toward post-war patriotism: "Three years ago this month I turned patriotic. Have been thinking lately of turning something else when this trip is over but guess I'll have to wait until I return and see how things are" (April 12, 1946). Other letters also allude to Ackerburg's desire to leave the service, and he often mentioned his plans for seeing Suki once he returned to the United States. Though the status of their relationship was unclear, Ackerburg did ask Suki to clarify her feelings toward him, saying, "It's been 5 months and three days since we kissed goodnight … I imagine the reason you are glad you had will power is the same reason that I wish you didn't" (June 16, 1946). Ackerburg's letters provide insight into the life of merchant marine sailors in the post-World War II era.