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(Above: Photo of S.S. McKeesport while under construction courtesy of Steamship Historical Society of America. To purchase this photo, visit the Steamship Historical Society of America website.)
After 74 years, there is probably no one left alive of the 67 crewmen who were aboard the S.S. McKeesport when it sank in the North Atlantic on April 29, 1943.
The merchant marine vessel was part of a convoy of supply ships that was returning to the United States from Europe when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
But McKeesporters haven't forgotten their namesake ship. At 12 noon this Saturday, veterans and volunteers will gather at McKees Point Marina along the Youghiogheny River to remember the S.S. McKeesport.
"We're trying to keep its memory alive, not just for the merchant marines who served, but for all of our veterans," said Mary Ann Goldie, one of the organizers of the annual remembrance ceremony, which has been held each April 29 for nearly 20 years.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers, a tablet commemorating the ship and its sinking is located at the marina. The ceremony on Saturday will be held nearby, unless forced inside the Palisades ballroom by inclement weather, Goldie said.
Saturday's ceremony is still subject to change, said another one of the organizers, Tom Maglicco.
Tentatively scheduled to participate include American Legionnaires from McKeesport and Port Vue; members of Amvets Post 8; members of the Liberty Borough Veterans' Association; and military police attached to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Center in North Versailles Twp.
Also scheduled to participate are members of the McKeesport Area High School Band under the direction of Drew DeCarlo, and members of the McKeesport Area High School Girls Ensemble, as well as members of the women's auxiliary of American Legion Post 666, and the Three Rivers Chapter of the American Merchant Marines Veterans.
In addition to Maglicco and Goldie, members of the committee include Dr. Rudy A. Antoncic, Bobbie Billsborrow, Jim Fedasz, Sue Striffler Galaski, and Laura W. Jenkins, who is scheduled to sing the National Anthem on Saturday.
According to Goldie, S.S. McKeesport was one of 30 supply ships named for cities where U.S. Steel had large operations.
Built by U.S. Steel's Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Kearny, N.J., S.S. McKeesport was completed in 1919 and christened by Eleanor Cornelius, daughter of the general manager of McKeesport's National Tube Co. pipe mill.
The steel used in S.S. McKeesport's construction is believed to have been poured in the Mon Valley, Goldie said. S.S. McKeesport had delivered emergency medical supplies to Belgium before the sinking, she said.
According to historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, when the German submarine U-258 fired on the S.S. McKeesport at dawn on April 29, 1943, its gunners, under the command of U.S. Naval Reserve Ensign Irving H. Smith, "stood by their guns until ordered to abandon ship" but were unable to spot the U-boat and return fire.
All 67 crew members were rescued by another ship, though one crewman, Seaman John A. Anderson of Baltimore, later died as a result of exposure to the icy waters.
Originally published April 26, 2017.