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Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guard Memorial dedicated at Eco Park

By Staff | May 29, 2019

Members of the community gathered to pay their respects to fallen members of our military, as well as dedicate a new monument celebrating an underdog in war efforts, at Eco Park Sunday.

The Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guard Memorial was unveiled to the public, as it takes it place among many monuments Cape Coral has dedicated to military branches.

“The dedication of the Merchant Marine and Navy Armed Guard Veterans Memorial was a great feeling, though long overdue,” said Dru DiMattia, a former 30-year Merchant Marine in his own right, and an instrumental piece in getting the memorial constructed in Cape Coral.

A large crowd gathered in the Veterans Pavilion at Eco Park, where Michelle Rosenberger gave a beautiful presentation, as she does each year, to honor fallen soldiers of the Iraq War.

An Iraq War monument, shaped as a star, is lined with dog tags of veterans who lost their lives serving their country and paying the largest sacrifice for our freedoms.

This year, Rosenberger honored Army Pfc. Greg Goodrich, who died April 9, 2004, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Goodrich was part of a fuel convoy from the Bartonville-based 724th Transportation Company that was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, according to the Defense Department.

Another fallen hero remembered was Army Maj. Brent Taylor, who died Nov. 3, 2018, during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan due to an “insider attack.”

Taylor was on his fourth deployment, having served in Iraq twice before and Afghanistan in 2012.

Rosenberger plans to have Taylor’s widow place his dog tags on the monument later this year.

“It feels great to honor someone new each year, especially since it may have been a few years since they were killed in action. They are truly not forgotton,” said Rosenberger. “It was great seeing the community support.”

A 21-gun salute was performed by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and USAF A1C Richard Osman performed “Taps” on his bugle.

Cypress Lake High School Center of the Arts graduate A’Layahna Checo beautifully sung the national anthem and “Amazing Grace.”

Following Rosenberger’s moving talk and placement of the dog tags, as well as words from Mayor Joe Coviello, U.S. Army CWO2 Mike Giallombardo, U.S. Army Sgt. Mike Dreikorn, U.S. Army LTC Christopher Crowly and U.S. Merchant Marine Dave Yoho, it was time to unveil the Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guard Memorial that has been months in the making.

“This addition to Eco Park, carries the World War II historical story of the crucial contributions made by our Merchant Mariners time and time again. The unique aspect of the original American Merchant Marine Veterans Southwest Chapter started right here in Lee County in1983. Those World War II Merchant Mariners were already turning 60 years of age. They fought and finally got veteran status in 1988. I thought this little piece of local history was worthy to be remembered,” said DiMattia.

It was here in Cape Coral, in 1983, that a group of World War II Merchant Mariners sought out veteran status for their war efforts. Just a year later, the same group incorporated a non-profit for the Merchant Marines in Lehigh Acres.

Finally, in 1988, the Merchant Marine veterans of World War II were granted veteran status.

This branch of service is an auxiliary to the U.S. Navy in any military conflict and is designated to carry cargo for any of our military, said DiMattia.

While earning veteran status was a victory, many Merchant Marines from that time were an average age 60, missing out on the G.I Bill and other useful veteran programs.

Their role in World War II was not just of significant importance, but of great loss.

During World War II, 1 in 26 mariners serving aboard merchant ships died in the line of duty — a greater percentage of war-related deaths than all other U.S. services.

A total of 1,768 U.S. merchant ships were sunk, damaged, captured or detained during World War II.

Originally, Merchant Marine ships were not equipped with weaponry of any kind. It wasn’t until ships began to get taken down in high numbers that the Navy Armed Guard came aboard, giving these vessels a fighting chance in the event on an enemy strike.

An average of 250,000 Merchant Mariners and 144,970 U.S. Navy Armed Guard — enlisted and officers — served during World War II.

The memorial in Eco Park features a Ship’s Bronze Wheel (or propellor), a granite memorial stone, plaque and U.S. Merchant Marine flag.

The granite stone inscription will read: “A memorial to all who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine and the Navy Armed Guard. ‘In Peace and War.'”

It will also detail the lost lives of 6,839 Merchant Marines, as well as the 1,810 lives of Naval Armed guardsman, accompanied by an image of a Liberty Ship (the most common Merchant Marine vessel).

These pieces, along with engineering and site design, were all donated by local businesses.

Padgett Swann Machinery, Fort Myers Memorial Gardens, Blot Engineering and Houchin Construction all played a role in making this a reality.

General contractors for the project — who donated their time, labor and necessary materials, are JHS Builders and Christopher Allen Homes.

“The dedication and unveiling of the memorial was well received as being very educational. With the high foot traffic and visibility along Veterans Parkway, we feel confident that this history will be shared and learned for many years to come,” said DiMattia. “The turnout was fabulous, with a show of force from our local community. The unspoken message is loud and clear.”

There are fewer than 1,800 Merchant Mariners from World War II still alive today.

During a September 1944 speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that the Merchant Marine had “delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult, and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken. As time goes on, there will be greater public understanding of our merchant fleet’s record during this war.”

Other than DiMattia, the Merchant Marine Memorial Committee is made up of Missi McComis Lastra, director of Operations, Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library; George Colom, Iwo Jima Restoration Team-Purple Heart Monument Team; Gary Bowler, president, Veterans Midpoint Memorial Trust, Purple Heart Monument Team; and Nick Napolitano, secretary treasurer, Southwest Florida Museum & Library.

Now, Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guardsman will forever be remembered in Southwest Florida.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj