Set In Stone: Merchant Mariners want to keep their memorial in place

by Robert A. Hamilton
Robert Patterson/The Day
May 14,2001
From U.S. Merchant Academy Alumni Association website

Christopher D. Riley, a spokesman for the New London Development Corp., met with members of the United States Merchant Marines Alumni Association, Shoreline Chapter, to discuss their memorial near Fort Trumbull in New London.

New London -- When he heard about plans for the redevelopment of the area around Fort Trumbull, Harold W. Haugeto thought it would bring a lot more attention to a memorial to Merchant Mariners that has been on the waterfront there since 1946. But early plans for the project call for the memorial to be moved to a less prominent location, away from the water, said Haugeto, a 1997 graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, and president of the local chapter of the Alumni Association. A Maritime Officers Training School at Fort Trumbull graduated 15,473 officers in 76 classes between 1939 and 1946, when the operation was transferred to the academy.

The memorial is inscribed with the names of 125 graduates who gave their lives in World War II, "and I think we need to remember them," Haugeto said. In an effort to promote the memory of those sacrifices, the association will expand its annual memorial service at the site to mark National Maritime Day. The observance will be at noon on Tuesday, May 22 this year. He said alumni have met with David Goebel, chief operating officer of the New London Development Corporation and a retired Navy rear admiral, and U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd Conn., a retired Army colonel, to ask that the memorial remain where it is. "We feel pretty confident because everyone seemed to support it as soon as they understood the issue," Haugeto said. "When (Boston developer) Corcoran Jennison put together the plan for the property, I don't think they knew a lot about the Merchant Marine."

Corcoran Jennison Co. has said it will construct a new 110-room hotel and conference center on the former Naval Undersea Warfare Center property where the memorial is located, along with a river walk that will pass the site of the memorial. Chris Riley, a spokesman for the New London Development Corporation, which has retained Corcoran Jennison to develop the property, said while there is sensitivity to the issue of the memorial, no final decision has been made. "We are still looking at a number of options, including having the monument remain where it is now, but the plans are still being developed," Riley said. "We recognize that it's a terrific asset to the city of New London, and we recognize the significance of it."

The Maritime Officers Training School opened at Fort Trumbull in 1939 to prepare merchant mariners who would staff the ships trading between the United States and war-torn Europe. On the day the final class graduated, April 30, 1946, then-Gov. Raymond E. Baldwin presided over a ceremony to unveil the monument to maritime officers who had given their lives in the war. An estimated 1,000 people turned out for the dedication.

Commodore Telfair Knight, commandant of the maritime service at that time, noted that many of the merchant losses came even before the United States entered the war, when German warships attacked unarmed freighters. Military leaders knew the value of the merchant fleet, he told the crowd. "Without their aid this terrible war, with its far-flung battle fronts over the seas which required ships and more ships to transport the sinews of war, could not have been won,"

Knight said. "It is fitting that we should take cognizance of the fact that casualties among the personnel which manned our merchant ships were greater in proportion to the number involved than in any of the services engaged in the war."

He said two other memorials, dedicated to the Merchant Marine and Navy Armed Guard Association, have been commissioned and are in the design stage, and he would like to see them erected next to the existing memorial. Members of those groups have been invited to take part in this year's memorial service. "Our feeling is, why not keep these memorials on the river walk?" Haugeto said. "It would just give people something else to look at."

U. S. Maritime Service
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