On May 22, we will join with communities around the nation to celebrate National Maritime Day, a day for celebration and recognition, as well as a day of remembrance.
In 1819, the American steamship Savannah departed Savannah, Georgia, en route to Liverpool, England, and made the first transatlantic voyage under steam propulsion. This steam-powered ship changed the face of American shipping, starting a revolution in ocean transportation that had been dominated by sail.
In 1933, Congress created the formal holiday to commemorate that seminal event and to recognize the contributions of the merchant marine and the maritime industry.
Merchant mariners and the American shipbuilding and repair industry — in particular small business — have been crucial to American economic prosperity since the founding of our nation. And in support of our national defense, it is merchant mariners who sail the ships with the fuel, supplies, and combat equipment that enable our armed forces to fight our nation’s wars.
In World War II, our merchant mariners and their shipmates of the Navy Armed Guard sailed across the Atlantic, the Pacific, through the Indian Ocean, and even across the Arctic Circle. During that war, more than 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine served their country, with about 8,300 mariners killed at sea and 12,000 wounded. Their personal sacrifice was great and commitment to our nation’s freedom unparalleled.
As the war was reaching its final moments, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “When final victory is ours, there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.”
On May 22, we bow our heads in silent memorial to our merchant mariner shipmates who crossed the bar for the final time this past year. We also lift a salute to our future – those bright young American women and men from our maritime academies and union schools who have stepped forward to carry on our U.S. Merchant Marine tradition.
Let us never forget these great men and women and all they do for our nation. Keep these professionals and their families in your thoughts as they work for the safety and security of our nation.
United We Sail,
Rear Adm. Dee L. Mewbourne, USN
Commander, Military Sealift Command