Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 8, 2010

Maritime Academy to remember lost cadet David Weiss

By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — A generation has passed but David Weiss is not forgotten.

The Great Lakes Maritime Academy cadet was among the 29 crew members lost when the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank on Nov. 10, 1975. A memorial service on Wednesday will honor Weiss as well as all mariners lost on the Great Lakes or oceans.

The academy's Student Propeller Club, Port 150, will host the solemn annual event launched in 1976. The public is invited to participate in the ceremony held at the Northwestern Michigan College Great Lakes Maritime Academy campus in Traverse City; the event draws up to hundreds of attendees.

"This has become here in the community an event that everyone is very aware of," said John Berck, director of enrollment for the academy and adviser to the Student Propeller Club. "We never know how many are going to attend but normally it is a large crowd and we love that."

The intervening decades have not dimmed the determination to honor a fallen classmate even as a generation of students have come and gone.

"Even though the Edmund Fitzgerald sank long before I was born or came to the academy, we all recognize that we lost a cadet on that boat," said Andrew VerVelde, a fourth year engineering cadet from Sheboygan, Wis., who is president of the Student Propeller Club.

Like all academy students, Weiss was completing his ship-based hours toward obtaining a Coast Guard license. VerVelde noted that on this Wednesday, 35 years later, the academy will have many cadets plying the Great Lakes toward the same goal.

"We recognize that we lost a cadet aboard a ship and that could as easily be one of us," he said. "On days like November 10th, you remember that those kinds of things can happen and, if it were me, I'd want to be remembered."

As they have for a number of years, some academy cadets leave after the Traverse City-based ceremony and drive to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in Paradise, Mich. Students make the trek to the point near where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank to again honor their lost comrade.

The Edmund Fitzgerald ship's bell was recovered in 1995 and now is displayed at the museum. During their memorial service, the bell is rung once for every man that went down with the ship.

"I was privileged to be able to not only see it but to ring the bell for [David Weiss,]" said VerVelde of last year's ceremony. This year, a different cadet from the Great Lakes Maritime Academy will ring the ship's bell in Weiss' honor.