First National Monument Honoring Merchant Marine Unveiled In New York City

The unveiling of the first monument honoring American merchant seamen who perished in all wars as well as in peacetime was held on October 9,1991, at a waterfront ceremony in lower Manhattan.

More than 1,000 people came to the dedication for the American Merchant Mariners' Memorial, a steel and bronze statue affixed to a b r e a k w a t e r offshore from Manhattan's Battery Park. The statue portrays three seamen in a lifeboat calling for help, with a fourth figure in the water nearby.

The dedication ceremony was the culmination of a 15-year quest by a group of activists who formed the American Merchant Mariners' Memorial Inc., raised funds, commissioned the sculpture, and lobbied the New York City and federal governments to give wartime merchant seamen the recognition routinely given to veterans of the armed services.

The 7-1/2-foot-high statue of four sailors is based on an actual photograph taken by a sailor on a German submarine in World War II. The German vessel had just sunk an American tanker, the S/S Muskogee, in North Atlantic waters. After photographing the American sailors clinging to their raft, the submarine left them there to die.

The monument, created by sculptor Marison Escobar from the photograph, exploits the fact that its site is on a breakwater some 30 feet offshore. One of the four sailors is partially submerged. As the tide drops twice each day, he appears to come up out of the water, as a shipmate in the lifeboat reaches out to him.

Dignitaries attending the ceremony included Rear Adm. Thomas A. King, president of the nonprofit memorial corporation and past superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO and chairman of the memorial corporation; and Warren Leback, U.S. maritime administrator.

Mr. Kirkland called the monument "a fitting remembrance dedicated to those merchant seamen who gave their lives in defense of the love of democracy that Americans share with the citizens of other free nations around the world." The dedication program concluded with a reception at the Whitehall Club in New York City.

More t h an 6,775 U.S. civilian seafarers lost their lives during World War II as a result of enemy action.

The 300,000 merchant mariners who served during that conflict were awarded veteran status by the U.S.

Government in 1988.

Other stories from November 1991 issue


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