The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) at Kings Point celebrated its 75th anniversary during an event-packed homecoming weekend. The centerpiece of the anniversary celebration was a dinner attended by more than 900 people on Friday, Sept. 21, at the academy’s Delano Hall.
The program began with a candlelight vigil by the Class of 2022, recognizing the 142 cadet-midshipmen who were killed in action during World War II. With candles in hand, 142 members of the Plebe Class encircled the dining hall and each recited the name of a lost schoolmate before eight bells were sounded, signifying a mariner’s end of watch.
Academy Superintendent Rear Admiral James A. Helis, along with the director of the American Merchant Marine Museum, Dr. Josh Smith, and the current and former midshipmen regimental commanders, John Roberston and Alexis Ibach, then unveiled what has become known at the academy as The 142 Project.
This project involved restoring a half statue, stone relief that hasn’t been seen in Delano Hall for 73 years. It depicts a cadet-midshipman, as they were known in World War II, firing an anti-aircraft gun at German aircraft.
In 1945, the relief was accompanied by a list of cadet-midshipmen who had died in action and was updated in near-real time, as they were lost. As the list approached 100, the superintendent determined that the presence of the list was having a negative impact on the morale of the regiment. He ordered that the relief and the list be covered and replaced by a large painting of the SS America as it sailed into New York Harbor.
The painting that dominated the wall space in Delano Hall for the past 73 years was recently removed, restored and relocated to its new permanent home in another place at the academy in order to reveal The 142 Project.
Remarks by U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Johnny R. Wolfe, Jr., brought the midshipmen to their feet. Wolfe implored those in attendance to strive to be servant leaders and to take care of family and friends, “for without them, we would not succeed.”
Wolfe was preceded by Maritime Administrator Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby who spoke of the first 75 years of service provided by the USMMA, saying the 142 and the academy motto, Acta Non Verba, “bind us together like no other group.”
Other 75th anniversary and homecoming events included a regimental parade; the alumni march on, led by members of the 75-year legacy Class of 1943, all of whom are in their mid-to-late 90s; and the USMMA Regimental Band, George M. Cohan’s Own, performed a special 75th anniversary ceremony of Beating Retreat for returning alumni, families and friends.