Commitment, A pledge and an Outreach
Although the Mariner's
Memorial Foundation, formerly the Fishermen's Memorial
Association, was founded to build a memorial to local
businessman and recreational fisherman Jay O'Brien, it
has grown into much more. The Association soon realized
that others came before and after O'Brien, and their contribution,
love of the sea, and the legacy that was theirs is as
important as his and should be recognized accordingly.
Now with the help of Rhode Island citizens, the organization
hopes to erect a memorial at the site of the Brenton State
Park flagpole to honor all men and women, past and present,
of Rhode Island whose destiny the sea has influenced.
The memorial will become
the perfect platform to pay homage to friends and relatives
who in some modest or monumental way sought the sea as
sanctuary and savior and whose endeavors can be measured
by their contribution to others. The memorial will speak
for all those who are not quiet and who wish to be remembered
for their love of the sea. It will be a place to honor
not only the Mike Plants, the Dennis Brother, and the
O'Brien's of the world but also all others who sought
the sea in their own way. It will speak for more than
the experiences and will announce with authority the simple
seaside stroller and the father or grand farther who sat
quietly at the seaside and contemplated the indignities
of the world. It will be a place where family and friends
can come together and regain a moment when the sea made
time stand still.
Located approximately 200
feet from Graves Point, the memorial will overlook Narragansett
Bay and Rhode Island Sound, an area rich in maritime history.
It was at Graves Point where the bodies of two unknown
fishermen washed up on to the rocks in the 1700's and
were buried next to both their giver and taker - the sea.
But there is a much greater
history that swelled up from these waters. The British
cruised by Brenton Point State Park in pursuit of revolutionary
warships, occupied Newport in 1778, and fought sea battles
with American and French forces in Rhode Island Sound
and Narragansett Bay; many of the cannons from that time
still lie quietly at rest off Brenton Reef.
It was from the sea that
Rhode Islanders took much of their sustenance. Fishing
is one of Rhode Island's oldest and most honored professions.
From Colonial times to the present, Narragansett Bay and
Rhode Island Sound have played an important role in the
life of Rhode Island's people. In the 1800's, Newport
reigned as a whaling capitol. Today, fishermen reap a
living from hard shell clams and lobsters that thrive
in the rich waters of the bay, one of the earth's richest
bodies of water. Although centuries apart, there is a
connection here, a common bond that ties the two together-
the sea and people's enduring love for it.
People who came to the
water's edge found beauty and a sanctity here, but others
often found their end. Ships lost in the fog and rough
seas of Rhode Island Sound foundered and went to the bottom,
often taking passengers and crew with them.
When the passenger liner
Larchmont left Providence for New York on a cold February
night in 1907, she passed by Brenton Point State Park
and into Rhode Island Sound where she found the full fury
of the sea as gale winds pushed the waves with relentless
fury. In the darkness of night she collided with a schooner
off Watch Hill and quickly foundered. Over 300 persons
met their deaths that night; many still rest in the encrusted
hull of the ship.
In 1807 when the Larchmont
met its destiny, the world was at peace. Rhode Island
Sound was a place of travel for pleasure and commerce.
Almost 30 years later it would be the background for naval
warfare as the bitterness of World War II drew to a close.
On a warm spring day in
May, 1945, as the merchant vessel Black Point moved through
Rhode Island Sound, a German U-boat, the U-853, sent a
torpedo broadside and into the stern of the vessel sending
her to the bottom and taking part of her crew and her
entire cargo of coal with it.
The U.S. Navy would answer
the assault with one of their own, trapping the U-853
in the shallows off Block Island and sending a barrage
of depth charges down to shatter her hull. She would never
see the light of day again, and the steel walls would
become a tomb for the entire crew, the last thoughts of
their homeland trapped with them in their watery grave.
Ironically, Germany would surrender the following day.
In May of 1990, 45 years
after the sinking of the U-853, on a deserted beach in
Little Compton, Timmy Arruda, a young but fragile boy
born with a genetic heart condition, sat quietly in the
darkness waiting for a fish to take his bait. For him,
the sea was more than just mystery; there was magic in
those waters. He saw the water not as a taker but as a
giver. He dreamed that one day he would pull from the
sea a great fish and in the process steal from it the
strength he never had. It was a vision not so unlike others.
He was connected by time to all the other scattered souls
around him, searching for something only the sea could
give. What came here was unexplainable, a question as
unanswerable as the origin of the universe. But he was
here, and in many ways, connected to all that came before
Sometime during the night
a striped bass took Arruda's bait and a fight ensued as
the fish stripped the line from Arruda's reel. He fought
back, tightening the drag in an effort to slow the fish,
but it was gaining ground. The real groaned as Arruda
tightened his muscles. Behind him, a translucent hand
touched his shoulder to lend support; it was a colonial
British naval officer cheering him on. A young girl, a
Larchmont passenger, gave a word of encouragement. A deckhand
from the Black Point wrapped his big, burley arms around
Arruda and helped him to keep the hook set. The crew of
the U-853 cheered as the fish rolled up on the beach.
The next day, as daylight
was starting to crest the horizon, another fisherman found
Arruda's body there within yards of his truck. Next to the boy was a 54 pound striped bass. The sea had
been both taker and giver as Arruda went to join his friends.
As Jay O'Brien clung to
the side of his boat one cold December day, the flame
that was his flickered in the wind and then went out,
but in its place another flame was ignited, this one as
bright as the first. Ironically, O'Brien's death might
serve as his greatest accomplishment, bringing to rest
the scattered souls of the sea.
Now, the souls of the past
and the spirit of the present have come together at the
site of the Brenton Point State Park Flagpole. Brought
together by common bond, they share the richness they
found and still find in the sea.