Gift To Seward’s Maritime Community

Reprinted with Permission By Heidi Zemach

Seward community and family members of nine deceased mariners stood together near the new gray and white lighthouse-shaped structure on the small boat harbor spit Sunday May 20th 2012 for the dedication of the new Seward Mariners’ Memorial. They stood shivering as a brisk wind whipped up the waves in Resurrection Bay just beyond. They bowed their heads in prayer, sang Fiddler’s Green, a lively fishing shanty, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” the Navy Hymn to sailors lost at sea, and Amazing Grace. As the ceremony progressed, a few gulls and an eagle passed overhead, a fishing vessel headed out into the choppy waters beyond the breakwater, and a cruise ship the size of a city block overlooked the scene from its dock beyond.

Seward Mariners Memorial

Local pastors Ron Nitz and Paul Caseman read some scripture, Deb Altermatt, of the Seward the Mariner’s Memorial Committee, shared a poetic parable she found particularly meaningful for the occasion. Family and friends wiped their eyes, as a ships bell was rung along with the names of each of the departed mariners. The most poignant part of the dedication ceremony however, was when the wives or friends shared a few words about the eight special men and one amazing woman whose lives are now memorialized plaques.

Clyde David Jackson, a deckhand on the MV Pacific, lost his life in April, 1971, at age 19, while saving the life of another crew member during a raging storm in Shelikoff Strait, said Corky Lambert, of Oregon who visited Seward for the dedication. He witnessed the disaster more than 40 years ago from aboard its sister ship, the MV Chilkoot, which pulled up alongside to help the crew try to bail it out. He well remembers watching as young Jackson disobeyed the captain’s orders to abandon the sinking vessel, and instead tried to aid a fellow crew member, saving him, but losing his own life when his hand became trapped in the hatch of the sinking vessel. Lambert also remembers the captain of the vessel who bravely leaped from the upper deck above to try and save young Jackson. Sadly, he could not do so. “You can be truly proud,” he told the family. “We honor you today for the exceptional son and brother whose family undoubtedly played a great role in his values.”

Lambert also remembered Captain James Halliger, of Seward, who had skippered the Chilkoot alongside him when the Pacific sank, and gave the order to cut the lines to save his own vessel. Halliger lost his own life at sea two years later when the MV Growler, similarly burdened with heavy construction materials, became overcome in a fierce storm, and sank near Whales, Alaska, along with all of its crew. “We have seen humanity at it’s best,” he said.
“Besides being my friend and husband for 20 years, he was quite a guy, and he would have absolutely loved this event, and have been part of it,” said Clement Locke McCann’s widow, Carrie. Most notably, her husband Clement started the Marine Maritime program at AVTEC many years ago, and was responsible for the hundreds and hundreds of people from across Alaska, even the remote of Native Alaska villages becoming licensed sea mariners, she said. “ I love that his name is on the wall.”
“I just want to say that “DJ” (Donald Whitman) just loved Seward, and he’s out fishing,” said Teresa Whitman, of her husband, a Navy veteran, who loved to fish for recreation on Resurrection Bay. He died just two and a half years ago, and her grief is obviously still quite fresh.

Gerald R. Bancroft taught generations of people the art of sailing, and loved to ply the waters around Seward, said his wife, Terri Bancroft. They purchased three boats together, all of which are still proud to call Seward their home port, she said. John Kumin, (formerly of Kumin Associates Inc,) also loved being out on the open ocean, watching the wind on the sails, said his wife Linda, of Anchorage. They launched their first boat here in 1981, and he sailed up to the time of his death.
Finally, there was a plaque for Sue Kaanta, the woman who dreamed up the mariners’ memorial project 15 years ago, along with her friend Nina Daley, and has always been involved with the project. Many said she was surely there at the memorial dedication, at least in spirit. “I want to thank every single one of you for helping, and to let you know that Sue is with us today, and is very, very happy to see what has become of all of this,” said Tye Long.

The memorial is still a work in progress, with a widows-walk, benches and landscaping plus a statue of a woman looking out to sea on the upper floor of the lighthouse planned for once additional funds can be raised. But for now it has a handsome paint job, an elegant wooden interior, and nine bronze commemorative plaques, honoring those who have contributed so much to this growing maritime community. (Major Marine Tours has donated a special cruise to benefit the project on July 3rd. Tickets are still available locally for that event.

Stephanie Millane