The forgotten service: Marco Veterans Day observance pays tribute to the Merchant Marine

Lance Shearer

Veterans Day ceremonies on Marco Island follow a rhythm, with the presentation of the Colors, singing of patriotic songs, and recognition of veterans, one branch of service after the other. Monday’s observances, at 11 a.m. in Veterans’ Community Park, honored the traditions as well as the veterans.

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But for years, the commemorations have added a wrinkle or unique feature, calling out for special mention one particular group or category for special honors. Last year on Marco Island, it was the Year of the Woman Veteran. Two years ago, Korean War vets, who fought in the conflict long known as the “forgotten war,” received special mention.

On Monday, veterans who served in the Merchant Marine got some long-overdue recognition. Moving the troops and materiel that made the war effort possible in every armed conflict the United States has fought, sailors of the Merchant Marine were often sitting ducks for enemy forces who attacked them with firepower far beyond what, if any, they possessed to shoot back, from British frigates to German U-boats.

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Yet these vital contributors to the military’s supply chain are often not considered when veterans are “thanked for their service” – even on Marco Island, the service flags and embedded rosettes for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard are not matched by a similar display for the Merchant Marine.

The United States Merchant Marine, said American Legion Post 404 Second Vice Commander Skip Merriam, predates the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard, going back to the Revolutionary War, and “serving with little glory or recognition.” When veterans of the Merchant Marine stood to be recognized, the applause was a little louder.

American Legion Post Commander Lee Rubenstein served as master of ceremonies, Rev. Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church gave the invocation and benediction, and the keynote speaker was Colonel Rick LoCastro, United States Air Force Retd., who contrasted sports stars such as NFL football players with the men and women of the armed forces and asked which were the real heroes. His candidacy for the Collier County Commission being vacated by the retiring Donna Fiala, who gave perhaps the briefest remarks of her career, did not come up.

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Mary Jo O’Regan sang, a capella, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and with prerecorded accompaniment by Kate Smith and Lee Greenwood, respectively, “God Bless America” and “Proud to Be an American.” LoCastro praised O’Regan’s vocalizing, but also expressed what was on the minds of many in the audience, that this was the first Veterans’ Day ceremony in memory when “God Bless America” was not sung by local legend and retired World War II Army Col. Herb Savage, conducting the crowd with his entire body and making the song all his own.

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Bob Corriveau of the Civil Air Patrol read the names of other island veterans who passed away in the last year, including Bill Irvine, William Lange, Charles Purple, Michael Gavin and Jim Curran, as Joe Batte tolled the bell for each.

The program listed CAP commandant Bob Boone as reading the names, but he was at the control of the CAP’s Cessna – not, as listed, Mick Thorstenson’s Navy T-28 trainer – as it flew overhead in a salute.

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