By VOICES Staff.
In a historic tribute, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs extended an unprecedented invitation to the American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV) to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day. This added a poignant chapter to the nation’s respect for its veterans.
“Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day this year was a historic first for the Merchant Marine,” said Captain Dru DiMattia, the President of AMMV.
The U.S. Merchant Marine serves the United States in times of peace and war and acts as the famous “Fourth Arm of Defense” to ensure America has talented seafarers and world-class vessels to meet critical sealift needs. According to the Navy League, reliance on foreign mariners and vessels for America’s critical sealift needs could impair our capabilities in a crisis.
The wreath-laying ceremony featured distinguished World War II U.S. Merchant Marine veterans David Yoho, Howard Pfeifer, Pete Kurkimilis and Charles Mills, accompanied by their chaperones. Despite facing a casualty rate rivaled only by the Marine Corps, these mariners repeatedly ventured back to sea, delivering essential goods without escort and earning their rightful status as United States veterans.
“[We] delivered 15 million tons of goods in war materials to five continents — 13 million tons to the South Pacific, 8 million tons to the Mediterranean, 5 million tons to Russia,” said David Yoho, now 95, in an interview with the U.S. Department of Defense in 2022.
Without heroes like the now 100-year-old Howard Pfiefer and 97-year-old Captain Pete Kurkimilis, who survived the Murmansk Run, the National WWII Museum says “the whole course of the war could have been very different and stretched on for many more years.”
“As we pay tribute to the U.S. Merchant Marine veterans and their incredible contributions, we’re reminded that the U.S. Merchant Marine continues to be the backbone of our maritime capabilities,” said American Maritime Partnership President Ku’uhaku Park in a statement to American Maritime VOICES.
The ceremony’s honor guard came from the Seafarers-affiliated Paul Hall Center. Apprentices Orlando Quirantes, Xavier Roberts, Caleb Estrada and Emma DiGennaro bore Old Glory and the Merchant Marine flag in honor of the mariners that came before them.
All Merchant Marine veterans present were proud members of AMMV, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving U.S. Merchant Marine veterans since 1984. Their inclusion in the President’s traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier earlier this year reflected the acknowledgment of the vital role played by the Merchant Marine in the nation’s defense.
“The American Merchant Marine Veterans are proud that our organization’s veterans could represent the heroic contributions of the U.S. Merchant Marine, our Nation’s fourth arm of defense, to military successes and maritime leadership of the United States,” said Captain DiMattia.
This ceremony stands as a poignant testament to the courage and sacrifice of the U.S. Merchant Mariners, solidifying their place in the nation’s history and the hearts of the American people.
AMMV is grateful for support from the following agencies and organizations for the 2023 Veterans Day event: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Maritime Administration, Arlington National Cemetery, Seafarers International Union, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, USA Maritime, American Maritime Congress, Transportation Institute, Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, Ms. Gloria Cataneo Tosi, American Maritime Officers, the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, USA Warrior Stories, Courtney Pecquex, Linda Pecquex, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and Judge Joan Zeldon.