According to the enclosed documents, at the age of eighteen, Joseph Sofka enlisted as a Merchant Marine in Pittsburgh after traveling there from his hometown of Wheeling. A frequently little known branch of the armed forces, Merchant Marines were responsible for ferrying cargo from the United States to the front lines in Europe and the Pacific, and were instrumental in maintaining supply lines to sustain the troops overseas. Merchant Marine ships had to avoid submarines, ships, and mines from the enemy, making a seemingly simple task into a deadly effort. As a result, the Merchant Marines had the highest casualty rate of any section of the armed services, with roughly 1 in 26 men dying. Compared to the Marines, who suffered a 2.9% casualty rate, the Merchant Marines had a dangerous job to do in order to keep the front-line troops from starving or running out of munitions.
James, Elizabeth D., “The People in the Papers: The Seaman Identification Card of Joseph Sofka,” in the Upper Ohio Valley Historical Review, Wheeling, WV, Winter 2016.