As has been done every year since 1933, this year’s National Maritime Day celebration in Washington, DC honored the contributions that civilian mariners have made in the defense and economic security of the United States.
Proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and approved by Congress, the holiday coincides with the maiden voyage of the SS Savannah, which, in 1819, became the first steam engine propelled vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Roosevelt, who had been Secretary of the Navy, was acutely aware of the industry’s importance and of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who crewed the nation’s vessels.
In the first of three ceremonies around the nation’s capital, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood delivered the keynote address at the session sponsored by the Maritime Administration.
“America’s merchant mariners are essential to both our nation’s strength and our economy,” the secretary said. “When called upon to support our nation’s military operations, mariners and their vessels do no shy away from danger.”
According to LaHood, President Obama sees the maritime industry as “a vital building block for an America built to last.” He stressed that the nation needs to modernize its transportation infrastructure, and he reiterated the White House’s support for the Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee initiative as well as other programs.
LaHood stated that “our future – the maritime industry’s future – is brighter than ever.”
Air Force General William Fraser, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, spoke at the annual Propeller Club luncheon as well as at a wreath-laying ceremony hosted by the Military Sealift Command (MSC).
Among other things, Fraser noted, “(Maritime is) a big part of America’s capabilities to keep our supply lines open and to support our troops, and I can’t thank you enough for that. You’re the fourth arm of defense. It’s your bravery and your valor that makes the waterways safer and more efficient every single day. And our ability to defend our nation and our interests around the globe relies heavily on your creativity and your ingenuity…. You have continually delivered for the war fighter.”
Fraser spoke in glowing terms about the close relationship between the military and the private-sector industry, which has had many beneficial rewards for both sides. For civilian mariners and others in the maritime industry, it has meant jobs. For the MSC and the various branches of the military, this close relationship has given the U.S. government access to a truly impressive intermodal network at a price it could not hope to duplicate on its own.
He added, “(The Defense Department) could not do our job without the superb relationships that we have with our commercial industry and our U.S. mariners. You are absolutely essential to the greatest military in our history.”
Stressing that every segment of the industry has an important role to play, he said, “I want to thank you personally for everything that you do – for your faithful and tireless service to deliver America’s arsenal and humanitarian aid every nautical mile around the world. Throughout our history you’ve always been there, and you continue to be there. You’re the backbone of America’s ability to project power wherever and whenever it is called upon.”
Praising the contributions of the civilian mariners who crew the MSC’s vessels, its commanding officer, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, pointed out that his agency and the U.S. Merchant Marine “have been partners since this command’s beginning at the end of World War II…. Merchant mariners have been part of America’s prosperity and security” from the nation’s first days.
Buzby told the audience, “More than 80 percent of the U.S. war fighters’ needs are carried by sea. It is U.S. Merchant Mariners who crew the ships and deliver the goods anywhere and everywhere in the world. Right now, today, the American Merchant Marine is delivering the supplies and gear that deployed U.S. ground troops need to do their mission.
“We at MSC are proud of our civilian mariners.”