The men and ships recognized through historical research as having suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service during World War II now have a monument in Myrtle Beach honoring them.
Merchant mariners, politicians and residents gathered at Warbird Park off Farrow Parkway near The Market Common for the unveiling of the monument for the merchant mariners, a group that operates as an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy during wartime.
Mariner chapter member Clarence Newcomer said the first wartime role of a merchant mariner occurred in 1775 predating the U.S. Navy.
“Merchant marines have engaged in every conflict of America since the War of 1812,” Newcomer said. “And they are still delivering supplies today wherever and whenever needed.”
Merchant marines have engaged in every conflict of America since the War of 1812, and they are still delivering supplies today wherever and whenever needed.
Mariner chapter member Clarence Newcomer
The John T. Schmidt South Carolina Palmetto Mariner Chapter made up of American merchant mariner veterans hosted the ceremony. Newcomer commended John T. “Tom” Schmidt, Jr., the son of the mariner chapter’s late founder and president of the organization, saying, “Jack would be so proud of his family and the foundation that made this possible today.”
The crowd that attended the memorial unveiling, included 102-year-old Ralph Ashby, who served on Liberty ships.
Accompanied by his sister-in-law and caregiver Dorothy Jurczenia, the two made the trek from Little River to attend the event so Ashby could “pay my respects.”
Ashby’s memories of being part of a “group of civilians who were never honored as GIs” was clear, and when it was time to stand beside the other merchant mariners, he did so with no assistance, removing his hat in reverence.
Originally from Worcester, Mass., Ashby served from June 1942 until the end of WWII on six ships. He recalled his first trip to Algeria in North Africa on the Liberty ship named the Lou Gehrig after the famous baseball player. The ship carried a couple of airplanes and other supplies, which generally amounted to 15 tons of supplies per soldier per year at the front.
Although he was unaware of the mariner chapter until he heard about the monument unveiling, Ashby said he was honored to be part of a ceremony recognizing the merchant mariners who served their country. Serving on primarily unarmed ships, merchant mariners suffered high casualties in all wars, perhaps the highest in WWII. Records compiled by the U.S. Merchant Marine organization shows that 243,000 individuals served with 9,521 killed and some 12,000 wounded, or 1 in 26 merchant mariners killed or wounded.
Rep. Alan Clemmons read a letter from Gov. Nikki Haley recognizing the merchant mariners as “unsung heroes” who have “been there throughout history.”
Haley’s letter recognized the high level of casualties and noted that for decades, merchant mariners did not receive the same benefits as other service members. She said the monument will stand as a “visual reminder of the dedicated service of the Merchant Marines.”
Gathering around the monument that was funded through donations, WWII and Korean War merchant mariners helped unveil the monument dedicated in memory of all who served “lest we forget.”
They sailed there and had no weapons but they went out again and again. Without them bringing us food and supplies we would have been in desperate straits. Without them…we would not have won the war.
WWII Navy veteran Jack Platt of Myrtle Beach, on the merchant mariners
WWII Navy veteran Jack Platt of Myrtle Beach said the memorial is “long overdue.”
Platt, who was a friend of the late John Schmidt, served in the Philippines from 1944 to 1945, and was there during the surrender. He remembers the Liberty ships being in the harbor alongside the Navy ships.
“They sailed there and had no weapons but they went out again and again,” Platt said. “Without them bringing us food and supplies we would have been in desperate straits. Without them … we would not have won the war.”
The local mariner chapter meets the third Friday of every month – except July and August – at Veterans Café. Veterans and the children of veterans are welcome to attend and join the chapter, which is working to bring attention to the lack of benefits provided merchant mariners. For information, contact Tom Schmidt at 919-880-0043 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela Nicholas can be reached at email@example.com.