32nd Annual Merchant Marine Convention & Reunion – 2018

St Louis, MO March 14th – 18th, 2018
DoubleTree Hotel St. Louis Westport
1973 Craigshire Rd, St. Louis, MO 63146

AMMV 32nd National Convention
St. Louis, MO – March 14-17, 2018

The 32nd National Convention of the American Merchant Marine Veterans was a stunning success, with total attendance of over 100 people. Attendees and guests represented twenty-five states and fifteen AMMV Chapters. A strong turnout was seen from the St. Louis-based SS Samuel Parker Chapter and the Chicago-based Midwest Chapter.

Wednesday, March 14th

Registration opened on the 14th with a “Meet-and-Greet” featuring Sally Langwah as Carmen Miranda. The Hospitality Room featured many banners and exhibits and was generously stocked with drinks and snacks. Various Merchant Marine apparel and 50/50 tickets were being sold, and form letters in support of S. 2127 (WWII MM Gold Medal Act) were available for all to sign.

Carmen Miranda greets attendees at Registration

The annual Board of Directors meeting was held later that night. The 2018-19 fiscal budget was proposed and approved. Other points of discussion included membership; dues collection issues; organizational non-profit status; and the location of a 2019 convention.

AMMV Government Affairs Co-Chair Michael Helbig was in attendance to answer questions and brief the BOD on the Korean Conflict C/MSRB Merchant Mariner veteran status application. In the category of membership and outreach, it was agreed upon to try and collect addresses for all U.S.-flagged oceangoing vessels to be added to our mailing list.

Thursday, March 15th

Opening Ceremonies were kicked off the next morning, led by Master of Ceremonies John Pitts. The Colors were posted by the Scottish American Military Society, Post 1821. Next, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, followed by a touching version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” from Sally Langwah. An opening prayer was read by Bob Ross. A moment of silence was observed, then Richard “Ben” Benjamin performed TAPS. Next, Bob Ross read the Merchant Marine Flag Creed. Opening Ceremonies concluded with Sally singing, “Heave Ho”.

National President Capt. Chris Edyvean gave a report of AMMV business and recent activities. Topics included membership; the need of more key volunteers; social media report; and WWII Merchant Marine legislation. Many ideas and suggestions were offered in the category of promoting legislation, and the discussion continued until lunch break.

AMMV business meeting in session

The Ladies’ Luncheon was held that day, with twenty-one persons attending. Roy Langwah entertained, playing the character of Buddy Holly. Sally joined in as Diana Ross.

During the afternoon business session, the Regional Vice President election was formalized with all eight RVP’s maintaining office for the next two fiscal years (July 1st, 2018 – June 30th, 2020). The proposed blanket revision of the AMMV Constitution & By-Laws and the Resolution to support H.R. 1240: The Energizing American Maritime Act were both approved. Stanley Blumenthal of the Gulfstream Chapter submitted from the floor a Resolution to support the construction of U.S.-flagged oceangoing cruise ships, which was also approved.

The banquet speaker for the opening dinner was Mr. Paul Doell, National President of the American Maritime Officers union. Among other topics, Doell spoke of the legislative process and the upcoming maritime “Sail-In” in Washington, D.C., in which representatives of pro-U.S. maritime interests gather to meet with Congresspersons and staffers.

AMMV Treasurer John Pitts (left) and AMMV President Capt. Chris Edyvean (right) present Sindy Raymond with a service award at her Retirement Party

Following our speaker, Sindy Raymond was recognized with an award for her many years of service to AMMV and the Just Compensation Committee. She also received a framed letter from U.S. Maritime Administrator RADM Mark H. Buzby; a plaque on behalf of the Great Lakes Maritime Academy; and two dozen red roses compliments of the Midwest Chapter. However, these formalities were just the start of Sindy’s retirement party. Sally & Roy entertained with an “employment/work” themed show, of which Sindy was a participant for the entire program. The finale was the song “YMCA”, in which other attendees joined Sindy in the spotlight.

It is also noteworthy to mention that a four-person film crew, led by David Alberg of NOAA, conducted video interviews of many of our Veterans on this first full day of the convention.

NOAA film crew conducts video interviews

Friday, March 16th

The following morning opened with a two-hour “open microphone” session. Hap Bledsoe of the High Rollers Chapter presented a series of posters he created to help educate the public about the service of the WWII U.S. Merchant Marine.

The featured bus tour was next. The first stop was at the Lumiere Casino, in which some attendees grabbed an early lunch while others tested their luck at the slot machines. The second stop was at the Anheuser-Busch facility, were a photo op session with the famous Clydesdale horses awaited. A special banner was created by Anheuser-Busch to thank our WWII Vets; the banner was given to us afterwards and will be displayed at future AMMV events. Everyone on the bus tour was provided a free drink token and a goodie bag which featured a nice ball cap from Anheuser-Busch with the lettering “AMMV of WWII, STL 3/16/18” stitched into the back.

The final stop of the tour was the Chesterfield Veterans Memorial Park. This is a relatively new park which, thanks to the efforts of SS Samuel Parker Chapter members and affiliates, proudly includes the U.S. Merchant Marine flag. The bus met up with local law enforcement vehicles and the Patriot Guard motorcycle riders in a nearby parking lot, who then escorted the bus to the park. The police had streets blocked off and traffic stopped to allow the bus a smooth ride into the park, thus showing respect for the Veterans on our tour.

USMM Vets at the Chesterfield Veterans Memorial Park

Upon arrival, Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation greeted and shook hands with each Veteran. A four-piece band was playing “Heave Ho” as our group disembarked the coach. St. Louis television Channel 5 News (KSDK) was on-scene and filmed the event. (The story was aired that night and watched in our Hospitality Room.) Our Veterans then posed under the Colors for photos. The band continued to play patriotic songs, including a reprise of “Heave Ho” with Sally Langwah joining on vocals. All in all, this stop at the Chesterfield Veterans Memorial Park was truly an event to remember.

Saturday, March 17th

The final day of the convention saw the Hospitality Room decorated in green for St. Patrick’s Day, with plenty of beads and other party favors available for all.

WWII Merchant Marine Veteran & famous motivational speaker Dave Yoho kicked off the day with an amazing patriotic speech. His presentation ended with the song “Proud to be an American” playing in the background. Dave received a standing ovation from the crowd, leaving many people in tears.

Dave Yoho with U.S. Merchant Marine flag

After a short recess, David Alberg provided an update on NOAA sanctuary expansions on the east coast, an ongoing process of which AMMV resolved at our 2017 convention to support. Alberg was well received and answered many detailed questions from our members.

Commodore Martin Connell, an attaché from the British Royal Navy was welcomed following lunch break. Commodore Connell spoke on behalf of the Battle of the Atlantic Memorial (BOAM). He explained the organization’s goals and timeline in regards to constructing a monument in Liverpool that will honor the Merchant Navies and Merchant Marine of all Allied nations of WWII. The BOAM website is: https://battleoftheatlantic.org/ .

The final daytime speaker was RADM Jerry Achenbach, Superintendent of Great Lakes Maritime Academy. Achenbach narrated a power point presentation on the topic of “Merchant Mariner Recruitment and Retention”.

Joining us for the Farewell Banquet was Mr. Brendan Fahey, Deputy Director for U.S. Senator of Missouri Claire McCaskill.

Prior to the serving of the meal, the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets retired the Colors as Sally Langwah sang, “America the Beautiful”. Bob Ross recited a prayer, and Sally capped off the formalities with “Heave Ho”.

James E. Caponiti, President of the American Maritime Congress was the featured speaker. Caponiti spoke of our declining U.S.-flagged fleet and the projected inability to meet manpower criteria aboard our ships in any prolonged military crisis.

The 50/50 raffle was won by Hap Bledsoe with his share being $226. Other consolation prizes were raffled off, including “AMMV family” ball caps, provided by the Ohio Valley Chapter.

The AMMV Awards Ceremony, conducted by President Edyvean, saw seventeen members recognized for stellar service to the organization. (Not all recipients were in attendance.) In the category of “Member Appreciation”, plaques were given to Charles Montanaro; William “Speed” Hinds; Hap Bledsoe; Bob Ross; Bob Weagant; Eugene Barner; John Pitts; and Lynn Kelly. “Outstanding Volunteer” plaques were awarded to Carole Gutierrez; Morris Harvey; Sindy Raymond; Patti Scafidi; Laura Johnson Riddle; Dave Yoho; and Sheila Sova. The Harvey-Wichita Award – AMMV’s top tier recognition, which is the equivalent of Member of the Year for “post-WWII members” – was presented to Michael Helbig.

In the category of “WWII member”, which is considered a lifetime achievement award and the highest honor that may be bestowed by AMMV, Charles A. Mills was recognized. Charles, accompanied by family members on the podium, accepted the award as he received a standing ovation.

WWII Merchant Marine Veteran Charles A. Mills and family

However, the night was far from over. Dave Yoho provided closing remarks for this 32nd convention, presenting AMMV with checks totaling $8,000 in donations. Sally & Roy performed a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day show to finish the night. Afterwards, most attendees flocked to the Hospitality Room to continue the celebration.

Early talks favor a Tampa, FL location for next year’s event. See you there!