Retired MTD Executive Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Duncan served as the keynote speaker during the National Maritime Day luncheon in San Pedro, CA, on May 22.
The meal followed the annual observance and memorial service held at the American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial just outside the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. More than 100 people participated in the events.
Duncan reflected on the service of the thousands of civilian mariners who answered their nation’s call – including those rejected by the military as 4Fs – during World War II. He noted the war started for U.S.-flag merchant shipping in the months before the nation was attacked by Japanese forces in December 1941.
He then drew attention to what merchant mariners had done since World War II, starting with the December 1950 exploits of the SS Meredith Victory under the command of Capt. Leonard LaRue early in the Korean Conflict. Despite being under attack and receiving orders to set sail, the Meredith Victory remained in the Port of Hungnam and safely evacuated more than 14,000 refugees fleeing the North Korean and Chinese armies.
Duncan pointed out that during the Vietnam War, the Military Sea Transport Service listed 16 merchant mariners – including seven aboard the SS Baton Rouge Victory – as killed in action. He also called attention to the recent movie “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” which revolved around the exploits of Vietnam-era mariner Chickie Donohue as he attempted to meet Brooklyn buddies fighting in the war at the time of the 1968 Tet offensive.
He recalled the salute given to the U.S.-flag merchant fleet by then-U.S Transportation Command’s leader, Gen. Hansford Johnson, for maintaining a “steel bridge” between the United States and Kuwait during the 1991 conflict. He mentioned the film “Captain Phillips” shows how mariners – even in times of peace – must stay vigilant for pirates. And, he told the guests that it was an American civilian crewed vessel, the USNS Brunswick, which sailed into harm’s way in to Port Sudan in late April to rescue U.S. citizens caught in the Sudanese civil war.
During the earlier outdoor ceremony, Los Angeles County Supervisor (and former U.S. Representative) Janice Hahn remembered her late uncle was a merchant mariner during World War II and compared what he did not receive for his efforts to what his brother (and her father) did as a Navy sailor. She said it took more than 30 years before Congress bestowed simple veterans’ status for that era’s mariners. She said more needs to be done.
Gus Hein, Director Mid-Pacific Gateway Region for the U.S. Maritime Administration, read President Biden’s Maritime Day Proclamation, which included his longstanding support for the Jones Act.
That ceremony closed with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Rifle Post 2967 firing a 15-gun salute and playing “Taps” while Los Angeles Fire Department fireboat #2 sprayed a water-cannon salute in the nearby harbor.