Fitzgerald’s crew is remembered Service marks 35th anniversary of wreck

November 11th, 2010 by Staff

Source: freep — Pamela Johnson told her father, who was the cook on the Edmund Fitzgerald, that she loved and missed him.

Then she tossed a wreath into the Detroit River.

“This is where my heart is. This is where the ship was built,” Johnson said after a memorial service marking the 35th anniversary of the Fitzgerald’s sinking ended Wednesday evening.

Johnson traveled from Abilene, Kan., to the service in River Rouge’s Belanger Park to honor her father, Robert Rafferty, one of the 29 crew members who died when the Fitzgerald sank in a ferocious storm in Lake Superior in 1975. The 729-foot Fitzgerald was built at the Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge and launched in 1958. Another crew member’s daughter, Deborah Gomez-Felder, came from Milwaukee. Her father, Oliver (Buck) Champeau, was an engineer on the Fitzgerald.

“I feel a connection to being here in Michigan,” she said. “It really is nice to see this carry on.”

During the service, a bell was rung for each of the 29 crew members and once additionally for all mariners lost in the Great Lakes. Glowing lanterns representing each of the Fitzgerald crew members also stood a mournful watch beside a railing overlooking the water.

The service brought together family members of the crew, those who had helped build the ship, visitors from as far away as California and a man who had sailed on the ship’s maiden voyage.

Great Lakes explorer Frederick Shannon, who lives near Flint and led an expedition to the wreck site in 1994, spoke at the service. Shannon’s seven dives sparked controversy at the time, in part because of the discovery of a body at the site.

After asking the audience to observe a moment of silence for the lost crew, Shannon described the experience of seeing the sunken Fitzgerald.

“It is a shipwreck that will actually change your life,” he said. “Don’t ever forget the memory of those 29 men.”

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