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WWII vet takes in 96th birthday on Boardwalk in OC

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

It’s hard to surprise Morris Semiatin on his birthday these days.

Ben Semiatin, left, speaks to the crowd at the Ocean City Firefighters Memorial on the Boardwalk gathered for his father’s birthday on June 1. JACK CHAVEZ/BAYSIDE GAZETTE

The 96-year-old celebrated another one on June 1, this one with family, friends and well-wishers singing him happy birthday in front of the Ocean City Firefighters Memorial on the Boardwalk.

Last year, a motorcade parade featuring local first responders came to the Gull Creek senior living community to commemorate his birthday. The previous year, before moving from Montgomery to Worcester County, also featured a motorcade parade — but in this one, he was presented with an American flag on behalf of the President of the United States, the Governor of Maryland, and the Montgomery County Executive.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a life for the nonagenarian.

A World War II veteran, Morris Semiatin was injured on Iwo Jima when an enemy soldier charged his foxhole and threw a grenade into it. While he and his compatriots were busy trying to protect themselves from the impending explosion, another section of soldiers “eliminated him,” Morris said.

In the Marine Corps, Morris Semiatin even befriended Ira Hayes, best known as one of the six marines in the iconic “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” photo taken by Joe Rosenthal in 1945.

So close were they that he even gave his son Ben Semiatin the middle name Ira.

After the war, Morris Semiatin had a long career as a White House photographer. During this time he was the photographer for every president from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan. He photographed world leaders, athletes and celebrities alike.

Ben Semiatin recalled that he got to have celebrities call him on his birthday. He can produce photos of him wrestling Muhammed Ali and his dad posing with Neil Armstrong and William Shattner.

Allegedly, Lyndon B. Johnson is a big hugger.

He has a picture that his father shot of Roger Maris of the New York Yankees presenting to Kennedy the baseball he hit for his 61st home run, which was a record at the time.

Simply put, Morris Semiatin got to make history and documented history makers.

Today, Ben Semiatin is the architect of these jubilant celebrations every year. Doing so keeps a pledge he made to his mother, Ann, 37 years ago.

Morris Semiatin gives a thumbs up to the crowd gathered at the Ocean City Firefighters Memorial on the Boardwalk before they sing “Happy Birthday” on June 1. JACK CHAVEZ/BAYSIDE GAZETTE

“When my mother died (in 1985), I promised her that I’d take care of my dad for the rest of my life,” he said. “Every year since she died, I take care of my dad. I make sure he’s treated like a king. He’s my dad. I’m the youngest and I take care of my dad. He’s my awesome dad and I want to make sure he’s taken care of on his birthday.”

“That’s why every year I make sure that he is taken care of. I want the entire town — the entire country — to know who this man is. Because I challenge (anyone) to find another living human being who has seen as much as he has seen, who has been through as much as he’s been through and photographed as many people as he has photographed in his life.”

This story appears in the print version of the Bayside Gazette on June 9, 2022.