From wartime training to modern leadership, USMMA marks 80-year anniversary

From wartime training to modern leadership, USMMA marks 80-year anniversary
County officials helped the United States Merchant Marine Academy celebrate the institutions 80 year anniversary. (Screengrab)

The Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point marked a historical milestone when it celebrated its 80th anniversary Sept. 29 as County Executive Bruce Blakeman recognized the academy’s legacy and contribution to the nation.

He declared Sept. 29 as United States Merchant Marine Academy Day and gave Superintendent and Vice Admiral of USMMA Joanna Nunan a proclamation.

Since its inception in 1943, the academy has played a role in training generations of merchant mariners, a mission initiated by President Ulysses S. Grant and officiated through the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 and the establishment of the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps in 1938.

On Sept. 30, 1943, the academy was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “the academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis the Navy.”

That same year it received full accreditation as a degree-granting institution, cementing its place as a maritime education center.

“When you think about the academy standing up in 1943,” Nunan said,”it was by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He knew that we needed more merchant marine officers to help win the war; you’re not going to win a war without the refrain. So that set up then. But when you think about today, and all of the things going on in the world, the merchant marine academy has never been more relevant.”

Throughout its history, the academy has adapted to both times of conflict and peace. During the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, it accelerated graduating classes and played a significant role in training officers for the first U.S. nuclear-powered merchant ship, the NS SAVANNAH.

“I’m incredibly honored to be the county executive that’s home to such a fine institution that is not only an educational facility, but has a very, very important public safety and homeland security value to the whole country,” Blakeman said, “And I’m very proud that my father was a combat merchant mariner in World War II. And he served on a gasoline tanker. And it’s important to point out that the Merchant Marines had the highest percentage of fatalities in World War II.”

Blakeman said it’s important to remember those who gave their lives as merchant mariners, especially since the ships at the time carried so much gasoline and if one was hit, it was likely to blow up.

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena praised the academy’s preparation of cadets, who spend a year at sea before entering service and are “very prepared to take care of our country, to take care of our national security as well as our commerce,” she said.

“Many of the members are also members of our volunteer fire department,” DeSena said, “So, they’re serving our community in many ways. We’re so grateful, we’re so protected. We’re glad for their service. But really we love having them be part of the community.”

State Sen. Jack Martins, reflecting on the academy’s historical significance, noted its resilience during challenging times.

“If you think about it, 1943, middle of World War II and what did they decide to do but to double down and make sure that we had the competence in our Merchant Marines to sustain the war effort,” he said, “And then from there forward, and here we are in 2023, with ranking generation after generation of graduates from the Merchant Marine Academy that are leaders not only in our local community, but nationally as well.”

Martins also mentioned how a couple of years ago there was talk about closing the institution, but “not on our watch,” he said.

Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Phillips said that “it’s wonderful to see a woman as admiral…congratulations.”

She also said the academy’s cadets volunteer and participate in many local activites.

“These young men and women become part of our fabric here in Nassau County, and in particular, on the North Shore,” she said.

Legislator Mazi Pilip and Mayor of Kings Point Kouros Torkan could not be there because of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, but sent their best wishes.

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