Thursday, May 31, 2018

Who Were The Washington Island Merchant Mariners?

Flags are placed on Veteran’s graves in the Island cemetery for Memorial Day. It is one of the honorable duties of the American Legion Post #402 members. The number of flags throughout this place “under the pines” give a visual reminder of the many Islanders that served since the war of 1812 and are now departed. There is a quiet reverence here, yet the delightful cries of happy children also belong. It is a day to honor those that have sacrificed all so that we can enjoy freedom in America. 
Beautiful Quilts of Valor were displayed over the backs of pews in the Sanctuary of Bethel Church. The colors of red, white, and blue were stitched in a variety of patterns with loving care. A large crowd gathered for the Memorial Day program sponsored by the American Legion Post #402. Post Commander Bill Nauta welcomed everyone and led the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the National Anthem. Pastor Rick Smith gave the invocation. Patriotic songs were enthusiastically sung accompanied by pianist, Donna Briesemeister. 
The essay question presented to students this year was timely – As an Island student what would you do to stop school shootings? The winning essays are chosen by Legion members without knowing the names of the students. This year the ones chosen were written by Kayla Ervin, Rylie Lux, and Jonathan Bass. Jonathan Bass proposed stronger gun laws and leaders that act on banning assault rifles. He noted that there should be emphasis on providing schools with mental health professionals with regular student health evaluations. Rylie Lux noted that our government needs to do something as the number of school shootings rises. Leaders need to act, not just talk. She noted that there were less shootings after the enactment of the Federal Assault Weapon ban but that it ran out in 2004 and was not renewed. Kayla noted that there have been 18 school shootings so far this year although not all resulted in deaths. We honor our veterans for fighting for our freedom but now we need to protect children that are being gunned down at schools. Kayla also supported re-enacting the Federal Assault Weapon Ban. “The children are our future!” Even one child saved is worth it. Following the speeches the three students were presented with a special medal. 
The main address was about “Island Merchant Mariners during WWII”. It was presented by Bill Nauta who gave credit to those who had done the research for the topic. This service branch has been given little recognition and yet it played a critical role in every war since the Revolution as an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy. Its biggest role came during WWII. Their tankers and freighters brought arms, ammunition, food, medicines, planes, trucks, amphibious craft – whatever supplies were needed by troops all over the world. The men were trained in navigation, engine operation, and maintenance of the vessels in addition to gun and cannon use. 
Additional interesting facts reported by Nauta:
* The pre-war number of experienced mariners was 55,000 and increased to 215,000 for the war.
* About 8,300 mariners were killed at sea.
* 12,000 were wounded.
* 663 were taken prisoner. 
* 66 died in prison camps or aboard Japanese ship while being transferred.
* 31 ships vanished without a trace.
* 733 cargo ships were lost.
* Estimated total loss of life of Mariners in WWII is 9,300.
* 1 in 26 mariners serving aboard merchant ships in WWII died in the line of duty, a greater percentage of war-related deaths than all other services. 
* For 43 years the U.S. Government denied benefits for Mariners including housing and health care until Congress awarded veterans’ status to in 1988 to those that had served between December 7, 1941 and December 15, 1945. For about half that had served it was too late.

Commander Nauta closed by reciting the following list of Island Merchant Mariners, asking that if anyone knew of others that had served in this capacity in WWII, to please contact him or other Legion members so they can be added to this list.

G. Phillip Anderson
Richard Hansen
Dale Bjarnarson
Karly Jessen
Ted Bjarnarson
Magnus Johnson
Howard Foss
Gene Nelson
Jacob Gunnlaugsson
George Nelson
Russell Gunnlaugsson
Lloyd Orman
Carl Haglund
Jack Young

Pastor Rick Smith gave the benediction. The Legion members led the way to the cemetery where Doug Huffman read the Departed Comrades Roster. Pastor Alan Schaffmeyer shared some thoughts and gave the prayer. The Color Guard and Rifle Squad gave the Salute and Tribute. Bob Gillespie played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipe. The march continued to Schoolhouse Beach where a wreath was placed for those that died at sea. The Color Guard and Rifle Squad again gave the Salute. TAPS were played on the trumpet by Leo Derrico. 
Thanks to all that were involved in this service that honors those who been willing to pay the ultimate price so that we can enjoy freedoms today.