An area civic group paid respects during a ceremony on St. Simons Island Friday to merchant marines lost at sea.
About 50 people joined the the Golden Isles Maritime Club for its annual Maritime Day observance at the St. Simons Island Pier, which included the solemn playing of bagpipes, prayers and the ceremonial throwing of a wreath into the St. Simons Sound.
Pat Stokes, the club’s president, said the yearly tradition is meant to honor commercial sailors who have died in the line of their jobs.
“Over the years, doing this has become one of my favorite events,” Stokes told the crowed gathered on the pier. “It makes me proud that we continue to honor the lives of merchant marines.”
The ceremony began with the presentation of the colors by the Brunswick High School Junior Naval ROTC, along with bagpipes played by Danny Shepard, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent. Following Stokes’ opening remarks, Monsignor John Kenneally of St. William Catholic Church on St. Simons Island offered prayers and reflection.
The Roman Catholic clergyman implored those gathered to “remember those who dedicated their lives to work at sea,” and asked for prayers to “bring them safely back to port.”
Marking the occasion, club member George Yarborough rang the ship’s bell recovered from the oil tanker Esso Baton Rouge, which, along with the SS Oklahoma, was torpedoed by a German submarine April 8, 1942, off the coast of Burnswick. Five merchant mariners were killed in the attacks and are buried in Brunswick’s Palmetto Cemetery.
A wreath of fresh garland and flowers was thrown into the sound by club member Robert Franklin of St. Simons Island, with aid from his wife, Christine Franklin.
Franklin, a former trustee of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, said he was honored the club chose him for the duty.
The ceremony concluded with taps played on bagpipe and the retirement of the colors.
National Maritime Day is a federal holiday recognizing the maritime shipping industry. It is observed yearly on May 22, marking the anniversary of the first transoceanic voyage under steam power, which was completed by the hybrid sailing and sidewheel steamer SS Savannah in 1819.