Douglas Ponischil spent decades shipping tanks, clothing, medicine and supplies across oceans to the war front across the globe.
He became captain of a ship at age 24 and served several years as an American Merchant Mariner during World War II and the Korean War. He survived torpedo attacks, terrible storms and heavy shelling by enemy ships.
Finally, at age 95, he’ll see his war efforts remembered.
The John T. Schmidt Palmetto Mariners Chapter in Myrtle Beach will erect a mariner monument Friday in Myrtle Beach. The mariners carried troops, tanks, airplanes and supplies to the war front, occasionally accompanies by naval defense teams.
Nearly one in every 26 mariners who assisted the U.S. war effort were killed or died of injuries sustained in WWII, according to the American Merchant Marine at War website.
An estimated 9,300 mariners lost their lives during WWII, and 12,000 wounded. In all, 1,500 merchant ships were lost.
They didn’t get any recognition all this time. He’s at the end of his days and I’m so glad he gets to see this.
Susan Seagrove, Douglas Ponischil’s daughter
Ponischil has seen loss many times before. While serving as a junior third mate on the S.S. Cardonia in March 1942, a German U-boat shelled his ship for an hour. The Cardonia was eventually torpedoed and sunk near the coast of Haiti.
One mariner did not survive the attacks, Ponischil said.
“You get used to it – it just becomes part of your life,” he said.
The crew survived on several life rafts for more than a day until they were rescued by a U.S. Navy crew. Until recently, his war efforts have gone mostly unnoticed.
Today, American Merchant Marine organizations are fighting to ensure these veterans, who carry imports and exports at peacetime and assist the U.S. Navy in wartime, get the honor they deserve. John “Tom” Schmidt, Jr., president of the John T. Schmidt Palmetto Mariners Chapter in Myrtle Beach, spent the last few months fighting for a Merchant Mariner memorial. His goal will finally come to fruition on Friday.
“It’s just mystifying that they’ve fought for so many years to get the recognition they deserve,” Schmidt said.
The dedication ceremony is scheduled for Friday from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Warbird Park in the Market Common.
The Palmetto chapter has raised about $3,000 for the marble monument, which stands about 3 feet tall and includes a metal anchor donated by a former mariner. Schmidt said donations are still needed to pay for the full monument, though he wanted to unveil the stone tribute soon since the number of veterans is dwindling.
“We felt that the clock was ticking on the survivors and we wanted to get it up,” Schmidt said.
The dedication ceremony is scheduled for Friday from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Warbird Park in the Market Common. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs as seating will be limited.
Ponischil worked his way up from cabin boy to ship captain over the years, enlisting with the mariners on December 7, 1941. He served with the Merchant Mariners until June 1945, and served one year in the Navy in 1952. He started off his sea career at age 15 when he sailed for the Lykes Brothers Steamship Company over a summer. After finishing high school he sailed for Lykes Brothers for nine years and earned his third mate license before joining the newly-formed U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
He graduated the academy in 1940 after several years of correspondence training at sea.
It’s just so wonderful to finally be honored for what the Merchant Mariners did for America.
Ponischil was made captain of the George L. Baker ship at age 24.
“He’s so resilient,” said Susan Seagrove, Ponischil’s daughter. “He never complains about anything, he always wants to help. He’s remarkable.”
Ponischil said he’s never seen a memorial dedicated to the mariners and has always felt secondary to other branches of the U.S. military. Until recently, mariners were not G.I. (government issued), they did not qualify for the benefits under the G.I. Bill, according to the Palmetto Mariners website.
Even though he’s finally being honored for his service, he doesn’t consider himself a hero, Ponischil said.
“Well you should, because without you the war would have gone on and many more American lives would be lost,” Seagrove said.
Merchant Mariners now are honored at many memorials including the World War II Memorial in Washington. Daughters of the American Revolution in the Florence area constructed a memorial that was dedicated in 2014.
To donate or for more information about the Palmetto Chapter, visit www.usmmsc.com or call 843-651-8046.
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN
If you go:
What | Merchant Mariner memorial unveiling
When | Friday, 10:30 a.m. to noon
Where | Warbird Park in the Market Common
Note | Seating will be limited, attendees asked to bring lawn chairs