The white cabin over blue hull paint scheme is a telltale sign that the 41’ Utility Boat plying the waters off Kings Point belongs to the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). But the real giveaway is the group of crewmen sporting navy blue shorts and all wearing orange life vests over a light blue shirt.
Your suspicions are confirmed when the stern name plate comes into view and you read in large block numbers “142 US MERCHANT MARINE ACADEMY”. So, what makes the number 142 so significant that the USMMA would name one of its vessels by it? After all, the craft is not a show boat, but a Training Vessel; and the T/V 142 can often be seen with midshipmen at the helm maneuvering in Hague Basin while learning the finer points of twin screw vessel operations.
142 is a special number. It’s the number of USMMA midshipmen who lost their lives in combat during WWII while embarked onboard transport and resupply vessels supporting our Nation’s Armed Forces. To understand the importance of that number, one must put into context just how those young men found themselves in harm’s way.
The Academy was dedicated nearly 75 years ago, on September 30, 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when WWII was well underway. Though the D-Day landing was still almost a year away, it was the same President that gave the “day in infamy” speech, who also noted that "the Academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis the Navy." To attend any one of these schools during that time, indicated a dedication to the American way of life and a willingness to sacrifice for it.
Merchant ships, operating as an auxiliary to the Navy, bear the brunt of delivering military troops, supplies and equipment overseas to our forces and allies. While known for its rigorous academic program, the challenging coursework is augmented by the Academy’s Sea year experience, which requires midshipmen to acquire hands-on, real-world experiences aboard working commercial vessels sailing to ports around the world – whether in peace or war!
Not-withstanding the war, shipboard training continued to be an integral part of the Academy curriculum, and midshipmen served at sea in combat zones the world over. Some cadets having experienced a sinking and rescue subsequently went right back out to fulfill the Sea Year requirement. And while one hundred and forty-two midshipmen gave their lives in service to their country, many others survived torpedoes and aerial attacks. That demonstration of commitment adds credence to the USMMA motto of “Acta Non Verba" - deeds not words, and exemplified the concept of service above self.
During times of war, members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard engage in combat, but the students at their respective service academies do not. However, USMMA cadets participating in their Sea Year training during the war often found their lives in peril as they sailed through enemy-controlled waters or unloaded precious cargo in overseas combat areas. Thus, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is privileged among the nation's five federal academies to be the only institution authorized to carry a battle standard as part of its color guard. Also known as a military war flag, or battle flag, USMMA’s proud and colorful battle standard perpetuates the memory of the 142 Academy cadet/midshipmen who never returned to home port.
In memory of the 142, the battle standard bears the number "142" on its field of red, white and blue. In its center is the eagle of the Academy's seal in blue and gray, the school colors, and the anchor of the merchant marine in gold. From its top hang the ribbons which represent the various combat zones in which the Academy's cadet/midshipmen served.
It is no surprise that in the USMMA museum is the “Remembering the 142” exhibit which features profiles and photographs of the 142 USMMA midshipmen who were embarked onboard transport and resupply vessels during WWII. In the same museum is a Japanese sword surrendered by Vice Admiral Matomu Ugaki to Supreme Allied Commander and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur on October 18, 1945. General MacArthur bestowed the sword and sheath to the United States Merchant Marine Academy "as a memento to the valiant service rendered by the sons of the Academy in our struggle in the Pacific."
Not long ago, General Martin Dempsey, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the guest speaker at the Battle Standard Dinner, an annual event at USMMA that honors the memories of the 142. His remarks expressed his deep gratitude to the merchant marines and maritime professionals. “Our Nation is a great naval power. From the founding days of our Nation to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, a strong maritime industry has been a vital resource upon which we have long depended. In times of peace, the Merchant Marine helps secure our economic and national security needs by keeping the oceans open to trade. In times of conflict, the Merchant Marine carries critical supplies, equipment, and personnel overseas. US mariners represent the best of the American character.”
Now in its 75th year, the Battle Standard highlights Kings Point’s importance in American history and the vital role that Kings Pointers continue to play in serving our country in peace and war.