Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 27, 2018

For Memorial Day: American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial, Los Angeles

In the U.S., Monday — tomorrow, as this post is published — is Memorial Day. The holiday honors men and women who’ve died while serving in branches of the armed forces. Across America, there’ll be ceremonies, parades and — for millions of survivors — solemn recollection of those lost lives.

An auxiliary branch of the U.S. armed forces that is often overlooked is the U.S. Merchant Marine. Many nations maintain merchant marine services. If you live near a port, many of the ships you’ll see are crewed by merchant seamen, who can include officers, engineers, technical crew both aboard and in support operations. In wartime, merchant seamen can be called to active duty. The most familiar scenario involves a national navy activating their claim to use vessels and their crews for transportation of troops and cargo. That’s an oversimplification.

Graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, located at Kings Point, New York, qualify as officers in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Graduates of programs based at six other training centers don’t automatically qualify.

The details of how merchant marine services operate vary from one country to another, but are similar. Aspiring merchant seamen qualify to attend one of several training programs and receive training in their field of career specialization — navigation, engineering, etc. They’re also prepared to meet requirements for serving as auxiliary members of the U.S. Navy in wartime. Pardon me if I simplify a complex relationship between the Merchant Marine commercial and military functions, but my point is to highlight the American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial for Memorial Day.

Merch Marine Mem Brad Nixon 9270 (640x472)

Located in San Pedro, California, part of Los Angeles, the memorial sits at the edge of the Port of Los Angeles. It honors members of the U.S. Merchant Marine who died in wartime service.

The most immediately arresting portion of the memorial is a tall bronze sculpture: “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Jacobs Ladder Brad Nixon 9282 sm

It depicts one seaman rescuing another, climbing a Jacob’s ladder. You’ve seen them in countless maritime movies, perhaps without knowing that term.

The design is by Jasper D’Ambrosi of nearby Wilmington, California, another L.A. area port city. D’Ambrosi died prior to the casting, and the work was completed by his sons, Marc and Michael.

Before I go further, let me state that there are female Merchant Mariners. Just to make that clear.

The names of merchant seamen who died in wartime service are engraved on black granite plinths.

Merchant Marine Mem Brad Nixon 9269 sm

In that photograph, you can see the columns of names on the granite. They’re listed alphabetically beneath the names of the ships on which they served. In some sobering instances, the names of Merchant Marine cadets lost with a ship appear separately. Those were young seamen still undergoing training. The Merchant Marine training includes a long period of duty onboard. In the cases of those individuals, their training voyages happened in wartime, and ended catastrophically.

The names of the ships may not be so familiar as the battleships, cruisers and destroyers listed in accounts of naval battles. They’re tankers, cargo ships and troop transports, but they were on active duty, subject to the same risks of attack, and encountered the peril of war.

The Merchant Marine flag flies over the monument. The motto reads, “In Peace and War.”

Merchant Marine Brad Nixon 9274 sm

As the old song says, many brave hearts are asleep in the deep.

The American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial is at 6th and Harbor, San Pedro, California. Nearby is the Battleship Iowa, Los Angeles Maritime Museum and the memorial to Harry Bridges (red star), which I previously wrote about.

San Pedro Map Google

I wish you a peaceful Memorial Day, and more peace to follow, everywhere.

Many Under Western Skies readers are from other countries. One of my favorite aspects of writing this blog is connecting with you. Please consider the respect I pay to my own country’s fallen to extend to your nation’s as well. We’ve all lost too many.

© Brad Nixon 2018


  1. They did far more than people know. I fail to see why school systems refuse to give the whole story to students about the largest war this world has seen.


  2. I had a step-brother who went to the Merchant Marine Academy and worked as a Merchant Marine. You sure do not hear much about them and they did so much for our country!

    Liked by 1 person

    • As it happens, I now have a brother teaching at the Merchant Marine Academy, so I’m learning a lot I didn’t know. Yes, a fascinating business.

      Liked by 1 person

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