DOT and MARAD Celebrate National Maritime Day
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the US Maritime Administration held a joint celebration to mark National Maritime Day on May 22, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held virtually. It featured remarks from several leaders within the government and military transportation community, as well as veterans of the Merchant Marine.
Deputy Maritime Administrator Richard Balzano described the day as a time to “honor America’s maritime heritage and show respect for the men and women who make it great.”
Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao provided some of the history behind National Maritime Day, which was “established by Congress in 1933 to commemorate the first transoceanic voyage of the American steamship Savannah. It was a way to celebrate America’s long and deep maritime tradition, and the innovation that has powered it from Fulton steamship to nuclear ships and beyond. In World War II, Merchant Mariners were an essential part of the war effort and their casualty rate exceeded that of all the other armed forces.”
Discussing present times, Secretary Chao added, “We salute the men and women of the American maritime community who have helped ensure that people, supplies, and equipment get to where they need to be during times of peace, war, and natural disasters. Our US-flag fleet is an integral part of our national security and, as we face the COVID-19 crisis of today, the department is doing everything we can to support our country’s maritime sector and ensure that the industry is able to ramp up when the economic recovery begins. As we celebrate National Maritime Day this year, we want to thank our country’s Merchant Mariners and all those who work in the maritime sector for your contribution and service to our country.”
Decorating the flag of the Merchant Marines is the motto “In Peace and War,” a sentiment that Maritime Administrator RADM Mark Buzby, USN (Ret.) said is what drives those who serve at sea—the idea that they will get the ships through whether it is peacetime, war, or any other circumstance that may arise.
“Throughout our nation’s history,” said Administrator Buzby, “[and] before we were even a nation, this industry has persevered through a revolutionary war, with a civil war, through two global conflicts, two world wars, and any number of regional conflicts. You know, [the] Merchant Marine has always been there and has never faltered.”
He compared this history to what is happening with the COVID-19 pandemic. “This time instead of man versus man, it’s man versus a virus, and yet here we are Merchant Marines still persevering through it all.”
Just as ships devised countermeasures to reduce the threat of German U-boats and kamikazes to see their missions through during WWII, today’s mariners are using personal protective gear, social distancing, deep cleaning ships, and using other measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and keep the ships sailing.
Determination is a common thread among Merchant Mariners—and that determination is now being recognized for one deserving generation. Congress just recently approved the Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded collectively to the Merchant Marine veterans of WWII in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during that conflict. The honor, said Administrator Buzby, is one for which all generations of Merchant Mariners should be proud.
“I think that’s a real tribute as much to you in this generation as it was to those who preceded you, and other generations who did what you had to do to get those ships through, and I think it’s something that you all should be very, very proud of. Going forward, you know, it’s now incumbent upon us to see this thing through,” said Administrator Buzby referring to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re making great strides, we’re making great progress, and I’m very, very proud of the conduct of all of you. Whether it’s been labor, whether it’s been ship owners and operators, or whether it’s been government entities—the level of cooperation that has been exhibited I think says so much about this industry and why we are so strong.”
GEN Stephen R. Lyons, USA, Commander of US Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), provided context to the relationship between the US Merchant Marine, TRANSCOM, and the Department of Defense (DOD). “TRANSCOM, one of eleven combatant commands, is responsible to the Secretary of Defense and the Commander-in-Chief to deploy and sustain military forces around the globe to support our national security interests. In doing so, we count on a strong US-flag maritime industry—a maritime industry that has a long history of enabling military victory.
“Today, just as in WWII, the US-flag merchant ships, the mariners who crew them, and our commercial sealift industry continue to play a critical role in our nation’s defense by providing sealift ships, mariners, and access to global seaport networks. As a result, the United States’ ability to project and sustain military power across transoceanic distances remains a strategic comparative advantage,” explained GEN Lyons.
He also praised the mariners themselves as the greatest resource of a maritime nation such as the US. Adding that the high technical proficiency and competence, hard work, and innovation of the men and women of the US-flag fleet are what make their service essential to US national security.
The event continued with inspiring stories and words of wisdom from several WWII veterans of the Merchant Marines. Finally, the occasion ended with a rousing rendition of the Merchant Marine’s song, Heave Ho, and comments by Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs. While it may have been virtual, the celebration of National Maritime Day excelled in bringing together and honoring the maritime community.