U.S. Merchant Marine memorial plaque to be re-dedicated Oct. 12
By Echo Staff
Sep 27, 2013, 23:16
A memorial monument to U.S. Merchant Marine Cadets who perished while serving in World War II will be relocated, reconstructed and finally rededicated in Henderson Point Park at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12.
During the war, the United States Merchant Marine Academy was expanded to include three facilities known as U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps Basic Schools, one in San Mateo, CA, one in Henderson Point, MS, and one in Kings Point, NY.
Following the war, all activities were eventually consolidated at Kings Point with the other sites sold by the early 1950s.
The Henderson Point property was briefly leased by the Episcopalians as Kebele College which closed after six months.
Since 1959, it has been owned by the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, which established there the Gulfshore Baptist Assembly. The former school site consisted of approximately 25 acres facing St. Louis Bay immediately south of the Bay railroad bridge.
Gulfshore was severely damaged by Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and virtually destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969.
Eventually rebuilt, it was operated until the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the 1970s, a monument had been erected there dedicated to the memory of the deceased cadets. It consisted of an older-style kedge anchor (as depicted in the academy’s official seal), anchor chain and a dedication plaque.
During clean-up operations, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board personnel salvaged the anchor and plaque from the damaged monument and transported them north for safe keeping. The following year, the board determined that Gulfshore would not be re-built and the property was offered for sale.
Richard and Nancy Garziano live within sight of the former campus, with which Richard has several connections. His father, Aldo, was from New Haven, CT, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.
In 1942 or later, he was assigned to the Henderson Point Merchant Marine school as a naval gunnery instructor. Aldo married a local girl and remained as a resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where Richard was born. The association with the site continued when Richard was employed there as a security guard.
He has long hoped to see the monument returned to the Point. Late last year, his wife, Nancy, mentioned the subject to one of her high school classmates, Katharine Truett Ohman of Bay St. Louis.
Nancy said, “Once Katharine learned about the situation, she added it to her list of civic and community projects – I knew she would.”
Ohman began contacting the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, eventually reaching Barri Shirley, associate executive director of Business Services for the board. He had been among those who worked first hand to remove the approximately 1,500 pound anchor (and the much lighter plaque) after Katrina.
From the outset, he said that his and the board’s desire had always been to return the monument components to the Coast for suitable restoration. Since the original site was on land up for sale, Katharine set about trying to find suitable alternatives and individuals or organizations that could help. Assisting the process was her husband, John Ohman, himself a retired U.S. Merchant Marine officer. Selecting a location was the logical first step.
After narrowing down the choices, District Three Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner surveyed several options with the Ohmans. All agreed that the new Henderson Point Park, located at the foot of the Bay Bridge, seemed best, especially as it was located only half a mile north of the former school.
Ladner pointed out the park belonged to the Mississippi Dept. of Transportation (MDOT), so that was the next hurdle, in the person of Donald Gray, Senior Permit Officer for MDOT’s District Six.
At that point, no funding was available but John Ohman phone calls and emails paid off when Capt. Ron Campana became involved in July. An Academy graduate, Campana is president of the New Orleans chapter of the USMMA KP Alumni Association.
“Shortly after our initial conversations and exchanges,” said Ohman, “Ron came to Bay St. Louis and visited Henderson Point Park with Katharine and me.
“We’d finally found the person with the skills, motivation and contacts to move off square one.”
Campana arranged for design drawings and completed the MDOT application process with Donald Gray, along with the Harrison County Board of Supervisors’ approval letter.
Soon thereafter Barri Shirley traveled from Jackson, met Ohman and Campana at Henderson Point Park and turned over the salvaged memorial plaque. Shirley later arranged for Campana to take delivery of the anchor stowed in West, MS, from where it was trucked to New Orleans to be re-furbished.
Campana enlisted the aid of the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion in Gulfport to carry out the rebuild. While researching this project, it was learned that the original memorial was instigated by the alumni association New Orleans chapter and also constructed by the SeaBees.
Campana scheduled and arranged the re-dedication ceremony, which will be attended by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Superintendent, Rear Admiral James A. Helis, several midshipmen and other dignitaries. Further details will be announced soon by the Alumni Association.
The public is invited to attend the ceremony at Henderson Point Park on Oct. 12. A reception by invitation will follow at the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club.
Due to its proximity to the ports of New Orleans, Mobile, Gulfport and Pascagoula, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is home to many Kings Point graduates as well as other Merchant Mariners. Among the local connections are graduate Gary Taylor and new pleb, recent St. Stanislaus graduate, Christopher Trapani. The brother of Bay St. Louis First Lady Barbara Fillingame, is also a graduate.
Combat fatalities from service in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II were the highest per capita of any American organization, particularly in the North Atlantic. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen were then and still are placed aboard merchant vessels for several voyages during their training, before graduation. No cadets at the other four federal academies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard) are routinely so placed in harm’s way as students. The monument to be re-dedicated is a tribute to the sacrifices of one particular group of young men from “America’s Greatest Generation.”