By Paul “Chip” Jaenichen
On Memorial Day, we pause to recognize the sacrifice of and honor those who have given their last measure of devotion to defend the United States. We should reflect and offer our gratitude to these soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen, but we can also never forget the no less courageous men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
For 240 years, our merchant mariners have helped protect American freedom at home and abroad. They have enabled us to globally project and sustain our Armed Forces to respond to countless conflicts and crises around the world. Many in our Nation’s first “all volunteer” force have paid the ultimate price, sailing into combat zones under fire to deliver vital equipment and supplies to our troops when and where they needed it.
Recognized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as our Nation’s “Fourth Arm of Defense,” the U.S. Merchant Marine remains ever ready to rapidly deploy armed forces personnel and their equipment worldwide to defend our freedom. But many Americans are completely unaware of the role our Nation’s merchant mariners play in our national security or in our ability to respond to humanitarian crises anywhere in the world.
They are unsung heroes, but we at the Maritime Administration will never forget them.
Just last year, an all-volunteer crew onboard the M/V Cape Ray helped make the world a safer place by enabling personnel from the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center to neutralize more than 600 hundreds tons of Syrian chemical weapons. They completed the mission safely in international waters without injury, chemical release, or environmental impact.
U.S. Merchant Mariners frequently contribute to international humanitarian efforts, as they did in 2010, delivering humanitarian packages to earthquake-stricken Haiti. Nor will we forget the crews aboard the M/V Cape Rise and M/V Cape Wrath, who supported the recent international effort to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, crewmembers aboard 10 National Defense Reserve Fleet vessels were on the scene within days, providing equipment, food, and shelter for thousands of port emergency and disaster recovery staff. And following Hurricane Sandy, U.S. Merchant Mariners aboard three vessels collaborated with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to support recovery efforts.
In one of the largest maritime evacuations in history, immediately after the terrorist attack of 9/11, every workboat and ferry in or near New York City’s waterways raced toward Lower Manhattan. The city had closed subways, bridges and tunnels, stranding hundreds of thousands amid chaos. By the end of the day, without being ordered and with no centralized command, these seafarers evacuated more than 300,000 people.
Since 1775, the U.S. Merchant Marine has proudly answered the call to make the world a better and safer place, exemplifying their motto “In peace and war.” By honoring their tremendous dedication and sacrifice, we ensure that their legacy endures.
On behalf of a grateful Nation, we are thankful for their service and for the current generation of merchant mariners who go to sea to support our economic and national security.