Four members of the most recent apprentice class at the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) proudly represented the union and the school Nov. 11, bearing our nation’s flag and the U.S. Merchant Marine flag during the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
The participating PHC apprentices from class 901 were Orlando Quirantes, Xavier Roberts, Emma DiGennaro, and Caleb Estrada. They were invited to help symbolize and stand for the four World War II U.S. Merchant Marine veterans (Pete Kurkimilis, Charles Mills, Howard Pfeifer and David Yoho) who also took part in the ceremony. The apprentices were led by PHC Apprentice Commandant John Romer.
This marked the first time the U.S. Merchant Marine had been invited to participate at the solemn event. Along with the flag, their recognition included a U.S. Merchant Marine wreath that was presented.
Recalling his experience bearing the U.S. Merchant Marine flag at the ceremony, Quirantes said, “It was awesome. It was a huge honor to participate in the ceremony. We weren’t expecting it to be as grand as it was. We saw the president, the vice president, and the head of the Treasury.…”
“The honor guard from the SIU was absolutely fantastic!” said American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV) President Dru DiMattia. “It was an absolute pleasure working with the entire team.”
“It was a great day,” said AMMV Vice President Chris Edyvean, a former SIU member.
Among the cadre of distinguished attendees were President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis R. McDonough.
Each year on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the incumbent president has traditionally placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to memorialize fallen U.S. service members whose remains have not been located or were unable to be properly identified.
Following the Veterans Day wreath-laying, the commander in chief gave a speech at the Memorial Amphitheater recognizing the American forces who always rise to the occasion each time our country requires their service, and honoring the memory of his son, Beau Biden, and his service to this country as a member of the Army National Guard. “Our veterans are the steel spine of this nation, and their families, like so many of you, are the courageous heart,” Biden said.
Biden’s speech also highlighted the PACT Act, which was signed into law in August of 2022. The legislation aimed to expand healthcare access for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals and their families. Biden announced that any toxin-exposed veteran who served in any conflict outlined in the PACT Act would be able to enroll in VA health care starting in March 2024.After four decades of struggling for recognition, mariners who sailed during World War II received veterans’ status in 1988. Three years later and in another first, union mariners marched in the parade from Capitol Hill to the White House with members of the U.S. Armed Services at the conclusion of the Kuwaiti War.