Honors 'Forgotten Heroes' of World War II
Sixty years after the last shots were fired, some of World War II's unsung heros finally got their full measure of honor on Saturday, June 11, 2005, with the dedication of the World War II Merchant Marine Memorial at Camden Waterfront Park in Camden, NJ. The memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the volunteer seamen who transported virtually all of the troops, arms, supplies and provisions needed to keep the war effort alive in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
Thousands of merchant marine veterans, their families and survivors convened for a day of remembrance and discovery, highlighted by the 10 AM dedication of the memorial on the Delaware riverfront at Wiggins Park, just north of the battleship USS NEW JERSEY. They were joined by state and local political leaders, prominent members of the maritime industry, and naval brass.
A parade of tugboats and a visit by the SS JOHN W. BROWN, a historic restored Liberty ship used to help win World War II, highlighted the dedication ceremony. The public was invited to join the celebration at 10:00 AM, and to tour the BROWN, which was docked at Penn's Landing, across the river in Philadelphia.
Port of Philadelphia Was Central to War Effort
The Delaware Valley's first memorial to Merchant Marine veterans is appropriately sited: shipyards in Camden, Philadelphia and elsewhere in the tri-state area produced 335 of the merchant ships used during World War II. Among nearly a quarter-million merchant mariners who served in the Second World War, about 9,500 died aboard the 865 merchant ships sunk by enemy fire. Yet it was more than forty years after the war that members of the merchant marine were finally recognized as World War II veterans.
Completion of the Memorial was the fulfillment of years of effort by the Merchant Marine Veterans of America, founded and headed by Charles Mardigian of Mt. Laurel, NJ. Along with a committee of merchant marine veterans and leaders in the Philadelphia region's maritime industry, Mardigian raised funds, secured a location, and arranged design and construction of the memorial.
Mardigian said: "These veterans worked in obscurity, and nearly 10,000 of them died in the war effort. No battlefield site commemorates their sacrifice; no military graveyard displays their headstones. That's why this memorial is so important to the families of merchant mariners who died, and so gratifying to those of us who survive them."
The June 11 dedication unveiled a truly monumental memorial. As its centerpiece is a twelve-ton, thirteen foot-tall bronze propeller, donated by John Bantivoglio of Camden Iron and Metal and refurbished by volunteers with the assistance of Joe Balzano, Executive Director of South Jersey Port Corp. It sits in a site adjacent to Wiggins Marina, surrounded by benches, flagpoles and a brick promenade. The memorial was designed by the engineering firm of Taylor Wiseman & Taylor of Mount Laurel, and constructed by A.P. Construction Co.
On the dais at the dedication were keynote speaker John Pickavance, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (retired), Vice Admiral Joseph Stewart, Superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Congressmen James Saxton and Rob Andrews, Camden County Clerk James Beech and the Freeholders of Camden County.
Public Toured Liberty Ship All Weekend
The Liberty ship JOHN W. BROWN was available for public visit at Penn's Landing for several days before and after the dedication, from June 8 through June 12. Project Liberty Ship of Baltimore has worked since 1988 to restore and operate the BROWN as a museum ship and living memorial. The organization is chaired by Captain Michael J. Schneider. The voyage of the JOHN W. BROWN to the Port of Philadelphia was supported by a generous donation of fuel oil by Sunoco.
Chris Reynolds, Reynolds Ink, 610-566-1960 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Mardigian, Merchant Marine Veterans of America, 856-722-1546 / email@example.com
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