Students award long-overdue medals
to Merchant Marine veteran of WWII © Feb. 22, 2013, Norwich University Office of Communications
Frank Carissimo, 20, stood at a podium in his Corps of Cadets dress uniform flanked by three other Norwich University students.
All four young men serve in the Army Reserve or the National Guard, and are also enrolled in college. All seek active service upon graduation. And all stood together on Feb. 7, 2013, to honor a man who served his country during World War II in the Merchant Marines, and has not yet received the recognition he is due.
“As a service member myself, I felt we owe it to the older generation. Both my families, my mom and my dad, both grandparents have been serving. It’s in the blood,” said Carissimo, a sophomore studying political science and history. “I do not know why it took so long to present this award to him, I’m just glad we did.”
John Micknick of Montpelier, Vt., was 19 years old when he was recruited for the Merchant Marines. He had been working with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression and was recruited and trained by the Coast Guard. Micknick served from October 1941 to May 1945 on ships transporting food, oil and other supplies to the Atlantic, Pacific and South Seas theaters.
Merchant Marine ships were pointedly targeted by the Germans as they transported critical war needs, including new troops. They sustained larger casualties per capita than any branch of the military, sometimes losing two or three ships a day, but media kept these numbers quiet to mask the Germans' success and because they needed more men to sign up. Micknick himself lost his hearing due to cannon fire.
Merchant Marines received little recognition and no benefits after the war. It took 44 years for the Department of Defense to finally bestowed military honors and benefits.
Micknick, a man with a quiet and happy disposition, was one of 10 children. He earned an eighth-grade education and went from helping to support his family during the Depression to serving his country. At age 91, he still works three days a week, driving himself to his daughter’s doll house company where he makes doll houses to donate to needy families.
In November 2012, Micknick read a blurb in the back of one of his Merchant Marine magazines asking, “Did you get your medals?” When his daughter, Chris Abrams, looked into it, she learned he was entitled to four medals—WWII Veteran, Atlantic War Zone, Pacific War Zone and Mediterranean - Middle East War Zone.
Instead of simply having the medals sent by mail, she wanted to honor her father with a formal ceremony. Abrams contacted Norwich University, the country’s oldest private military college, because she wanted to foster a connection between youth who are preparing to fight today’s wars and her father, who enlisted when he was their age.
She also wanted students to understand the complicated history of the Merchant Marines and learn about how much they sacrificed with so little recognition.
The “persistence of righting a wrong is unique to this society,” said Abrams.
At the ceremony, Micknick stood at attention while Carissimo read a letter from President Harry S. Truman, thanking service members for their sacrifices. The room was filled with friends, family, press, staff and Norwich students and faculty.
Michael Richardson, a Norwich freshman and National Guardsman whose grandfather was a World War II veteran he never got to know, called this “a chance for me to pay back someone who served. I’m pretty sure they were in the same theater as well. It's nice to be able to present it to him.”
“I felt proud and fortunate enough to be able to present this veteran with the medals that he earned many years before and still hadn't received,” added William Tinney, a third-year psychology major and enlisted soldier in the Army Reserve. “I’ve thought a lot about how grateful and excited Mr. Micknick was about finally receiving the medals he earned in WWII. He kept thanking us for what we were doing, but for me, I felt like we were only doing what was right and it was supposed to be the other way around; us thanking him for what he had done and his service.”
Micknick said he was proud and happy to receive these medals. He remembers his service as an incredible time with everyone working together for a common cause. And despite his vigor he said, half joking, “I’m not a young man anymore. Sometimes I feel my 91 years.”