FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – In observance of Patriot Day, a sculpture was unveiled for those who served in the Merchant Marine at the Florence Veterans Park.
“I’ve been wanting something like that to happen for years and they just got around to it. I’m proud of them,” said Merchant Marine veteran Millard Blackburn.
“Makes me feel honored to have these people come out here and honor us with their presence,” added Merchant Marine veteran Joe Valasquez.
The monument is placed about 50 feet across from the Coast Guard’s monument. Colonel Barry Wingard says it’s in a perfect location because the Coast Guard and Merchant Marines are the two services in the military easily overlooked.
“Throughout our history, the Merchant Marine has been an integral part of everything the United States does and it’s most pronounced in World War II when almost 4% of the Merchant Marines were killed in action and never came home again,” Colonel Barry Wingard said.
As a member of the Merchant Marine from 1944 to 1946, Clarence Newcomer made 9 Atlantic crossings. He says this is only the second time he has managed to come to a ceremony to tribute the Merchant Mariners.
“We have had to fight, push, trying to get our plaques up, trying to get money up, trying to get recognition and this is fabulous,” stated Newcomer.
Newcomer views himself and other former Merchant Mariners who worked on American cargo ships as veterans of World War II who should be recognized for their service and sacrifice. Nearly 7,000 mariners were killed and more than 800 merchant ships sunk during the war.
“We are down to less than 5,000 that’s left, so to have three of us here is a pretty good percentage I’d say, just one area, so this is great,” mentioned Newcomer.
The Daughters of the American Revolution helped sponsor the sculpture.