Living “Acta non Verba” – The 142 from Kings Point
“Acta non Verba”. This is a glimpse of how thousands of my countrymen committed their lives to an ethos of “action, not words”.
The United States has five service academies – The Military Academy (West Point), Naval Academy (Annapolis), Coast Guard Academy, Air Force Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point). Of these, only one is authorized a Regimental Battle Standard because just one academy sends her students to war: The United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA).
“Wait!”, you may say. “These are military academies. Of course, they go to war.” For the Military, Naval, Coast Guard and Air Force academies, their respective graduates go to war. At Kings Point, the midshipman, those who are still students, go in harm’s way during war.
The academic program at USMMA was established with part of the midshipmen’s time designated as their sea year. This method places midshipmen on sea-going vessels for a very practical application of what they are learning and deliver the highest degree of training in the shortest amount of time.
Instituted in 1943, Kings Point’s charge was to produce thousands of licensed maritime service officers for the war effort. World War II, as are all conflicts, was an effort founded on supplies. The American merchant marine was absolutely vital to the war effort, even before the United States entered the war. Shipping losses were devastating, particularly off the U.S. coast and in the vast north Atlantic. On a per capita basis, the merchant marine suffered greater losses than other United States uniformed services. Greatly so. The German U-boat program was a horrifying model of ruthless efficacy. The men who went down to the sea knew serving as mariners was not a run around dangerous military service. It was being pressed against the very face of war. Search “S.S. Stephen Hopkins” to see how one crew savagely fought an enemy submarine. In this event the reader will also glimpse that even a merchant mariner who was fortunate enough to have survived a surface assualt was then relegated to the misfortunes of being lost at sea. At least one mariner left after his first and only wartime voyage and enlisted in the infantry because it was safer.
The United States Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Foundation has a succinct write-up on the academy’s battle standard: Kings Point “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. The proud and colorful battle standard perpetuates the memory of the 142 Academy cadet/midshipmen who were casualties of World War II. 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, the students of the USMMA receive an integral part of their training at sea, and in the Second World War often found their lives in peril as they sailed through enemy-controlled waters or unloaded precious cargo in overseas combat areas. In all, 142 such cadet/midshipmen never returned to home port. In their memory, 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.” http://www.usmmaaf.com/s/1175/index.aspx?sid=1175&gid=1&pgid=330
What may be learned from this? Thinking of why, and how, the Merchant Marine Academy was founded, I suggest:
- Have a defined mission and communicate it clearly and effectively to all stakeholders
- Excel in superior training
- Don’t rush foolishly, but don’t delay when stakes are high
- Plan and prepare, discuss and develop, but above all: Live USMMA’s motto: Acta non Verba – action, not words – when circumstances force you to.
I know of the motto, the battle standard and the incredible tales of gallantry at America’s least known service academy for a number of reasons. I am a USMMA field representative. A son received a Congressional nomination to the academy, as did one of my brothers. My oldest brother is a graduate, the first son of an alumnus to graduate from the academy. Our uncle attended Kings Point, as did his brother – my dad. They were WWII midshipmen, and you see, the 142 were their classmates.
Words are important, and the right actions at the right time are as well. Combined, they change the world.
Timothy C. Cummings (http://www.linkedin.com/in/timothyccummings) is a Navy veteran and held merchant mariner’s endorsements for several years. He is also a Certified Antiterrorism Specialist and Certified Plant Maintenance Manager.