On Saturday, November 19, 2016 the Fort Taber~Fort Rodman Historical Association hosted a ceremony in honor of “the men who sailed the Liberty Ships” – Merchant Mariners of WWII. More than 59 people attended the ceremony. Speakers included Joe Langlois, FTFRH President; Bob Bromley, Vice President & museum curator who spoke about the history of the Merchant Mariner memorial and museum display. Mr. Bromley noted that there has not been a ceremony honoring Merchant Mariners since 2004, when the memorial was originally dedicated. Also speaking was Mrs. Frances Cairns, widow of WWII Merchant Marine veteran Lawrence Cairns. Mrs. Cairns spoke about the history of Liberty Ships and the Merchant Marine, also known as “the forgotten service.” Mrs. Cairns mentioned the need for following generations and family members to remember the service of Merchant Mariners. To that end she thanked her committee members, Beth Goodhue – daughter of John Goodhue, WWII Merchant Marine veteran; and John Souza – grandson of Sixto Mangual, Captain of USNS New Bedford. Special guest speaker was Patrick Conneely, “The Irish Skipper”, who read a poem written in memory of Lawrence Cairns.
The program included an unveiling of an updated Merchant Marine section in the museum. Additions to the display include a model of the Liberty Ship SS Arthur L. Perry, donated by Mrs. Cairns whose husband was Quatermaster on the ship; a new digital display, featuring a 30 minute video history of the Merchant Marine; and numerous updated photos.
Following the unveiling, Reverend Pam Cole led attendees to the Merchant Mariner memorial where she spoke of the high casualty rate (3.9%) suffered by the Merchant Marine in WWII – a percentage which was higher than all other services during WWII. In New Bedford the rate was even higher. Of the 300 Merchant Mariners who sailed during WWII, 290 returned – a casualty rate of 10% for the Whaling City.
After closing prayers by Reverend Cole, cake and light refreshments were served in the museum. The cake, donated by the niece of Mrs. Cairns, was decorated as a Liberty Ship.