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World War II vet honored in Dover with Congressional Gold Medal: 'It's a big surprise'

DOVER — World War II veteran John Durkin, who served as a lieutenant in the Merchant Marine, received a Congressional Gold Medal Friday for his service from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire.

"It's a big surprise. I never imagined it," said Durkin, 95, before the ceremony at Dover Public Library in the city where he was born and still resides. He attended the ceremony with Rita, his wife of 67 years, and family members.

Shaheen, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she and her staff worked closely with the Durkin family and coordinated with the Maritime Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation to obtain the medal. She said she was "honored to have the privilege" to present it to Durkin.

"Our Merchant Marines were instrumental to the war effort, where they served as the supply line for U.S. troops and our allies," Shaheen said. "Victory would have been out of reach without their crucial contributions. I was delighted to help Lt. Durkin obtain this well-deserved medal and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to join him and his family to celebrate this momentous day.”

John Francis Durkin was born in Dover in September 1927, and graduated from Dover High School in June 1945. His first ship, the S.S. Conrad Kohrs, took coal and other much-needed supplies to Europe. John remained a Merchant Marine until he transitioned to the Navy as a reserve officer in 1953. After leaving the Navy in 1957, John worked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and had a four-year apprenticeship on computers before joining Honeywell. He retired from Honeywell in 1989.

“The Merchant Marine was a big part of my life. I was honored to serve my country in the Merchant Marine and in the Navy Reserve. I am honored to receive the Merchant Marine Congressional Gold Medal today,” Durkin said.

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. The act recognized the dedicated and vital service of the 290,000 men – including Durkin – who served in the Merchant Marine and risked their lives transporting American soldiers, supplies and equipment overseas in support of the Allied war effort.