Why Do We Celebrate Maritime Day?
Three hundred million tons of cargo--close to the weight of more than 20,000 Brooklyn Bridges, that’s the amount of cargo delivered by the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. Delivering 17 million pounds of torpedoes, tanks and fuel hourly by 1945, without these mariners, victory would have been impossible.
Described as the “fourth arm of defense” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the U.S. Merchant Marine had one of the highest death rates of all the services. Nearly one in thirty mariners did not survive the conflict. A service comprised solely of willing Americans, this “all-volunteer” force regularly sailed into combat zones, torpedo alleys and mine fields under fire in order to support their country. This dedication is what May 22nd is all about!
At this year’s National Maritime Day ceremony, the Maritime Administration awarded medals to one of these heroes, Morton Schlanger, for his service during World War II. A true example of the grit and determination that defined the Merchant Marine, at age eighteen Mr. Schlanger deployed to New Guinea with just one day’s notice. During his time at sea, Mr. Schlanger crossed through combat zones while transporting troops and supplies to and from the Philippines in support of the Pacific conflict. Of his time in the service, he says he “doesn’t regret a minute of it.”
The first to go to war, merchant ships were being captured and sunk well before the U.S. officially entered World War II. The last to return, merchant mariners sailed the ships that finally brought our troops home. Today and into the future, mariners continue to support our national defense. Civilian mariners transported more than 85 percent of the cargo required to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A constant economic support, merchant mariners reliably crew US-flag vessels to carry American goods to and from our shores.
For the last 235 years, the merchant marine has empowered American prosperity and security. Time and again the U.S. Merchant Marine has established itself as a national asset. It is because of this commitment that we recognize these heroes with National Maritime Day and thank them for their service and sacrifice.