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Merchant Mariner honored for WWII service

TILTON — The late father of a former longtime Kearsarge resident was posthumously honored Wednesday morning with a ceremony at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Shaheen participated in the presentation ceremony of the Congressional Gold Medal to the family of the late Capt. Dwight A. Smith, who served in the Merchant Marines during World War II.

Also there were Rear Admiral John Mauger, commander of the First Coast Guard District; Matthew Henry, administrative services director, NH Veterans Home; and Sarah Stanley, public services officer of the N.H. Veterans Home.

All residents of the Veterans Home were also invited to attend the ceremony.

The medal was presented to Capt. Smith’s son, Navy veteran Dwight A. Smith Jr., 97, past co-owner of the Conway Scenic Railroad and a longtime resident of Kearsarge before moving to the veterans home several years ago.

Shaheen and her staff worked closely with the Smith family to be able to present the medal.

According to Shaheen’s office, Dwight E. Smith of Bridgton, Maine (son of Dwight A. Smith of Tilton), attended the ceremony, along with his wife, Becky Smith, and brother Eric R. Smith of Portland, Maine.

Bob Cottrell of the Conway Public Library Henney History Room provided information about Capt. Smith, who was born Aug. 27, 1889, in Rockland, Maine, and died Oct. 17, 1962, at the Veterans Hospital in White River Junction, Vt.

Smith Jr. said his father retired to Groton, Vt., where they spent summer vacations. His said his father early in his career shipped out of Baltimore but later out of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Speaking about receiving the medal from Sen. Shaheen, he said, “It was quite the ceremony — all for my father. And long overdue. My son has really worked hard on all of this so it was nice to see this happen.”

“I was honored to take part in today’s ceremony honoring the life and service of Capt. Dwight A. Smith,” said Shaheen.

“The American Merchant Marines were instrumental to the war effort, serving as the supply line for U.S. troops and our Allies. Without their integral role and contributions, victory would not have been possible,” she added.

She said she was grateful to present it to his son Dwight, who carried on his father’s legacy of service to our nation.

Capt. Smith’s ship, the S.S. West Kebar, was hit by a torpedo on Oct. 30, 1942, by a German U-boat while steaming unescorted about 350 miles northeast of Barbados.

The surviving eight officers, including Smith, the ship’s master, 27 crewmen, 11 armed guards and eight passengers abandoned ship in two lifeboats and a raft in 20 minutes.

The survivors were taken to Barbados.

The major World War II targets of the U-boats were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from the West to the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and Allied territories in the Mediterranean.

In 2019, Shaheen supported legislation — which is now law — to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. Merchant Mariners of World War II.

According to Shaheen, “the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act recognized the dedicated and vital service of the 290,000 men who served in the Merchant Marines and risked their lives transporting American soldiers, supplies and equipment over the seas in support of the Allied war effort.”

Also on Wednesday, Shaheen toured the Wright Museum of World War II in Wolfeboro, where she discussed her successful push in Congress to pass the bipartisan Greatest Generation Commemorative Coin Act, which was signed into law earlier this month.

The new law will help preserve a public space to honor and remember veterans who bravely fought in World War II.

The law authorizes the U.S. Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the service and sacrifice of the Greatest Generation during World War II, and proceeds from the coin sales will go toward much-needed repairs and maintenance to the National World War II Memorial at no cost to taxpayers. Shaheen and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) led the legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Shaheen also successfully led bipartisan efforts in Congress to establish a memorial for the men lost aboard the USS Thresher at Arlington National Cemetery. She delivered the keynote address at the dedication for the memorial.

Shaheen also fought to include her bipartisan legislation to ensure all members of the Reserve Component and the National Guard are eligible to be buried in state veterans cemeteries in the fiscal year 2022 government funding bill that is now law.