Ocean View resident Joseph Stewart holds the rank of two-star general in the Marine Corps and as a vice-admiral, or three-star general, in the United States Maritime Service. Stewart served as the United States Merchant Marine Academy’s (USMMA) ninth superintendent and, upon his retirement in 2008, the Academy commissioned to have his portrait painted so it may hang in Wiley Hall – the chief administrative center for the Academy and former home of Walter Chrysler, in Kings Point, N.Y.
“It’s a little bit embarrassing me. I don’t feel like I’m worthy to have a portrait painted of me, but the painter was really a special person. So it was nice getting to know him and having somebody like him do it,” said Stewart.
He said he has yet to see the portrait – which was painted by Pennsylvania artist Bruce Becker – in person, but he has seen images of it on the computer.
“I haven’t seen it for real. I don’t know if I want to see it for real,” he said with a laugh. “My wife and my son tell me that it’s good. I don’t know… It looks a little weird to me.”
Stewart attended the Naval Academy after graduating from high school, particularly for the education and lacrosse opportunities.
“I grew up near the Naval Academy, so I always wanted to go to the Naval Academy. I didn’t really think beyond that,” he said. “I played lacrosse in high school, and they had a national championship lacrosse team, and I wanted to be on their team. I just kind of had a lot of respect for the Academy and, quite honestly, it was a federal education, so it was free – so that was important.”
Upon graduation from the Academy, Stewart could either be commissioned into the Navy or the Marine Corps. He chose to become a Marine.
“I didn’t really intend to stay in the Marine Corps for a long time. I just kind of needed it as a way to get started. But once I became a Marine, I learned the respect for other Marines and was proud to be in the Marine Corps. Just one thing kind of led to another, so I stayed in.”
During his 34-year career as a Marine, Stewart held a variety of positions, commanding a tank company, a supply battalion and a defense distribution depot. He also served as the deputy chief of staff for installations and logistics at the U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Stewart retired from the Marine Corps in 1998 and then “stumbled” into the position of superintendent for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
“When I was getting ready to retire, I was wondering what I was going to do. I sort of wanted to do something for education, and I stumbled across the ad for the superintendants position, which was put out by the Department of Transportation. I just applied for it to see what would happen, and the next thing I know, they ended up picking me,” he explained.
Stewart recalled his transition from the Naval Academy to the Marine Corps as seemingly routine, as the Marines are part of the Department of the Navy. Transitioning from the USMC to the USMMA, from an officer to a “government civil-service person wearing a uniform” was a little bit different, especially when it came to the uniform.
“Retiring from the Marine Corps and then going to the Merchant Marine Academy, that was a little bit unusual. When you’re at the Naval Academy, you wear a Navy uniform, and then of course in the Marine Corps, you wear a Marine uniform. At the Merchant Marine Academy, which is part of the U.S. Maritime Service, they wear Navy uniforms.”
“I took some good-natured ribbing from my friends because there’s some inter-service rivalries between the Marine Corps and the Navy,” he noted. “So when my buddies saw me in essentially a Navy uniform, they were always giving me a hard time.”
Stewart praised the USMMA for being a wonderful federal academy, which provides “wonderful opportunities for young people” and also happens to be free.
“I wish there were a way that more people could find out about the Merchant Marine Academy,” he said.
According to their Web site, the USMMA is intended to “ensure that such people are available to the nation as shipboard officers and as leaders in the transportation field who will meet the challenges of the present and the future.” That includes training students in marine engineering, navigation, maritime law and more.
Stewart noted that the USMMA only had approximately 1,000 midshipmen, making it about a quarter the size of the Naval Academy.
“Everybody always talks about the four federal academies: the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard – and they forget that there are five. Actually, the one at Kings Point is perhaps the easiest to get into and provides the widest range of options at graduation.
“I always tell everybody who asks me – You know, if you truly want to be in the Army, you have to go to West Point. If you don’t know for sure what you want to be, Kings Point is a pretty good place, because you can actually be in the Army when you graduate. You have so many choices, which is pretty good.”
Stewart also discussed military academy nominations, in which each Congressman is given 10 nominations for students within their state to be sent to one of the five federal academies each year.
“If they use 10 up this year, they get 10 next year,” he noted. Our congressman [Mike Castle], as of not so long ago, he had used up hardly any of his. I think it’s largely because people aren’t aware of the opportunities that they have.
“One of the great things about the Merchant Marine Academy is that you can graduate from there and be in the Army if you want to, the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps. You can even be in the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, but you can also serve your obligation as a civilian on a ship or in shipyards. The options are just incredible for young people.”
Now fully retired, Stewart, originally from Maryland, is enjoying living in a quiet beach community where he and his family have vacationed for years.
“I grew up near Annapolis, so we used to always take family vacations here. Then, when I was in the Marine Corps, I was stationed at the Naval Academy in Washington, and so forth – so I brought my own family also. We’ve loved it down here for years and years and years — back when you had to take a ferry to get across the Chesapeake Bay,” he noted.
“The people are so nice here. It’s a lot different from New York, where everyone’s blowing their horns and are double-parked. Here, you go into stores and everybody says hello and stops to let people cross the street. It’s really a great place, I think.”