Gen. Duncan McNabb was the featured speaker at two of the three National Maritime Day events May 19 in Washington, D.C. The yearly gatherings paid tribute to the U.S. Merchant Marine’s historic sacrifice and importance while also stressing the continued need for a strong American-flag fleet. In photo above, General McNabb and SIU President Michael Sacco are shown at the Washington Navy Yard with other SIU officials, VIPs and apprentices from the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education.

U.S. Merchant Marine’s Valiant History,
Importance Honored at D.C. Ceremonies


June 2011


Back to Issue


U.S. Merchant Mariners past and present were saluted May 19 during the traditional National Maritime Day ceremonies in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd), U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC) and the Propeller Club each hosted an event honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s civilian seafarers.

The SIU as usual made a strong showing. Dozens of unlicensed apprentices from the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education attended the ceremonies, including three (Priscilla Greene, Jason Allen and Leo Onofrio) who played important roles in the MarAd and MSC events, respectively. SIU headquarters officials President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Contracts George Tricker and Assistant Vice President Ambrose Cucinotta represented the union throughout the day.

Gen.  Duncan McNabb, commander, U.S. Transportation Command, was the featured speaker both at MSC’s ceremony and at the Propeller Club luncheon. U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) gave the keynote address at MarAd’s event, which also included a video message from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and remarks by Maritime Administrator David Matsuda.

MarAd kicked off the day at Transportation Department headquarters as Matsuda honored the memory of Richard Oliver Kelleher. He presented six posthumous awards to the family of Kelleher, whose death at sea during World War II symbolized the sacrifices of all U.S. Merchant Mariners. Accepting the awards was Kelleher’s brother, Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines.

Richard Kelleher, a fireman-watertender, was just 19 years old when he died while serving onboard the tanker SS Patrick J. Hurley. The vessel was torpedoed on Sept. 12, 1942 by a German U-boat.

" Richard’s desire to serve at a time when our country needed him most is an inspiration to us all,” said Matsuda. “His story is an example of the courage and commitment to serve that still exists in the men and women who go to sea today.”


LaHood pointed out America always has relied on its merchant mariners. He said that in addition to contributing billions of dollars to the nation’s economy, “In times of emergency, our civilian mariners sail into dangerous waters to fortify our nation’s defense. Over the past three years alone, the U.S. Merchant Marine has delivered more than 300,000 pieces of war material to the battlefields in the Middle East.”


Lautenberg said he still has a personal appreciation for civilian mariners. He was in the armed forces during World War II, when he spent time aboard U.S. merchant ships.


“I witnessed firsthand the difference the merchant marine makes,” he said, adding that maritime remains “a vital American industry. I have tremendous respect for our country’s mariners. The work that you do is vital. You are civilians who are patriots, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the heroic contributions of mariners. I thank each and every one of you for always answering the call of duty. I salute the courage and service of those who fought on merchant ships and who contribute so much to our security and economy.”


At the luncheon, General McNabb thanked the industry as a whole for its collective efforts to support our armed forces. “This nation is very well-served by what you all do,” he said.
He cited the large numbers of U.S. Merchant Marine casualties in World War II (including more than 1,200 SIU members who gave their lives) and then recalled being at the Pentagon on 9/11. Throughout the decades in between and right up to the present, “This really is a battle about good over evil,” he stated, emphasizing that a strong merchant fleet is one key to winning.


“I think about our mariners going out and putting everything on the line to protect our freedom. It is so noble what they’ve done,” the general declared.


Among the keys to maintaining a capable American-flag fleet are cargo preference laws, the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) and the Jones Act, which applies to domestic shipping. General McNabb said, “I obviously think cargo preference, MSP, the Jones Act – all of those things are absolutely essential for having a very strong merchant marine.”


Later, during the MSC ceremony – hosted by MSC Commander Rear Adm. Mark Buzby at the Washington Navy Yard – General McNabb said, “The merchant marine has always been the linchpin of our U.S. commercial sealift capability and has come to America’s aid at the most crucial times in history, projecting power wherever and whenever needed. It is an understatement to say we count on you. We absolutely depend on you.”


At the heart of the formal military ceremony was the presentation of three commemorative wreaths in solemn remembrance of mariners lost at sea. During presentation of the wreaths, the guests stood and service members, including McNabb and Buzby, saluted as the Navy Ceremonial Guard firing party fired three volleys of seven, and the Navy Brass Quintet played “Taps.” Following the ceremony, the wreaths were placed in front of the merchant marine bronze relief sculpture at the Navy Memorial in downtown Washington.


“We depend on [our mariners] every day to meet the mission requirements of the best ocean transportation system in the world,” said Buzby. “We at MSC are proud of our civilian mariners, so it is fitting that today is set aside to acknowledge the great debt of gratitude we owe to the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine.”


National Maritime Day is May 22 and honors the contributions of the American Merchant Marine, civilian men and women who have defended the freedom of the United States since 1775, and who collectively carried out the largest sealift operation the world has ever known during World War II. The day also acknowledges the maritime industry’s contributions to the nation’s economic and national security.

Share |