For photos and more coverage, click HERE to view photos from the ceremonies, and click HERE to access the National Maritime Day proclamation from the White House.
The SIU and its affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education had another strong turnout for this year’s National Maritime Day gatherings in the nation’s capital on May 23.
The morning began with the traditional ceremony at U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters, where several dignitaries addressed hundreds in attendance. Representing the SIU were President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Contracts George Tricker, Vice President Great Lakes Tom Orzechowski, Port Agent Pat Vandegrift, Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman and Plans Administrator Maggie Bowen.
In the early afternoon, the union hosted a brief ceremony aboard the SIU-crewed training vessel Freedom Star, docked a mile or so from the DOT building. Following remarks by President Sacco and Paul Hall Center Trustee Tony Naccarato, a memorial wreath was tossed from the boat.
Speakers at the DOT ceremony included Gen. Darren McDew, commanding officer of the U.S. Transportation Command; Maritime Administrator Chip Jaenichen; Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, commanding officer of the U.S. Military Sealift Command; Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department; and Mark Barker, president of Interlake Steamship Company.
Vice Adm. Albert Herberger, USN (Ret.) received a special award for his lifetime of dedication to the U.S. maritime industry, while Paul Hall Center Apprentices Simona Evans, Frank Bigornia and Thedford Jones combined to handle wreath-tending and memorial bell-ringing duties.
Most of the speakers cited the U.S. Merchant Marine’s centuries of service to national and economic security. They honored the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, including thousands who perished in World War II, and insisted immediate efforts are needed to bolster American-flag sealift capability along with U.S. crews.
“The nation’s merchant mariners have always answered the call to man the ships and carry our country to war,” McDew stated. “This crucial capability must never be taken for granted, nor the thousands of seafarer lives sacrificed in service. Today’s ceremony reinforces our commitment to both.”
He described civilian mariners as an “indispensable group of men and women who have the courage to lose sight of the shore, sail across the seas and serve their country with honor.”
Touching on the World War II service of mariners, the general noted that more than 243,000 seamen combined to deliver more than 600 billion pounds of cargo and more than seven million troops. But it came at cost, as one in 26 mariners lost their lives, including more than 1,200 SIU members.
McDew pointed out that mariners continued to deliver for our troops in every subsequent conflict “and I am convinced they stand ready to do so again when called.”
He said the nation’s “unique capability” provided by civilian mariners “sets our nation apart from the rest of the world, and it underpins our ability to project military power anywhere on the planet. Without you, our enemies become emboldened. Without you, our commitments become less powerful. Without you, our wars can hit closer to home.”
He concluded, “My number one priority as the commander of the U.S. Transportation Command is to ensure our commander in chief always has options and we always play ‘away games.’ I trust you to carry our nation’s army – that decisive force we need – no matter how dangerous the seas may be. I thank you for what you do. I thank you for who you are. I thank you for what you represent.”
Shannon emphasized that the context for his remarks included “a resurgent Russia, rising China, belligerent Iran, belligerent North Korea and violent extremist organizations…. I personally believe sealift in our future will be contested.”
Like other speakers, he reminded the audience that America’s founding fathers empowered Congress to build and maintain a navy. Shannon also said the need for a strong U.S. Merchant Marine has never been greater than today.
“Sustained combat, be it at sea, in the air, or on the land, requires sealift,” he explained. “It cannot occur without sealift: a mission accomplished by United States Merchant Mariners aboard United States-flag ships…. Our mariners are the most skilled, qualified professionals in the industry.”
He then talked about the Defense budget and asked, “What good is all of that combat power if we cannot deliver it to the fight and sustain it during the fight? As we continue a national conversation about our Defense budget, we must be mindful that the execution of our national military strategy requires a robust United States-flag Merchant Marine, a strong surge sealift capability and a deep pool of merchant mariners to literally carry out nation to war.
“This requires our vigorous defense of the Jones Act,” he continued. “This requires our vigorous defense of a robustly funded, multi-year Maritime Security Program to guarantee not only sealift, but access to extensive global logistics transportation networks and to the corporate knowledge that our industry partners bring to the fight.”
Shannon wrapped up his speech by underscoring the need for “cargo, cargo, cargo – not to create an unfair advantage, but to give the U.S. flag a fighting chance in a very competitive maritime industry. Make no mistake, our country’s security is at risk if we continue on our current path. Contracting out our ability to carry our nation’s combat power to war, with foreign-flag fleets is simply not a wise option.”
Jaenichen stated, “Our maritime industry has fueled the economy of the United States and our growth as a nation for over 240 years. By ensuring the waterborne delivery of supplies and equipment to our military forces based or deployed overseas, and delivery of those commercial goods here at home or to other nations, these men and women have played a vital role in establishing and maintaining the American way of life. And they have done so in ways that we could not possibly recount; we owe a great debt to the merchant mariners who have served our nation throughout its history. That includes the many thousands of citizen mariners who are currently employed in the oceangoing (trades), on the Great Lakes, on our inland rivers and waterways and in marine-related shore-side jobs both here in the States and around the world. Their skills, their persistence, their innovation, their determination are the lifeblood of a nation that began with an ocean voyage.”
He noted Congressional support for the industry dating back to the late 1700s. “They linked our nation’s future to systematically growing our maritime strength,” Jaenichen said. “Everything the maritime industry meant in 1789, it still means today. During times of national or international emergency, America’s merchant mariners are among the first to be called to action to help those in need, both here at home and abroad. Their efforts have been absolutely essential to our national defense.”
Jaenichen noted progress in the administration’s development of a proposed national maritime strategy, and concluded, “We are committed to taking every action to sustain and grow our merchant marine. We are committed to growing our U.S.-flag fleet, upgrading and expanding our ports, better utilizing our inland rivers and waterways, and providing training, education and job opportunities – and, more importantly, job security – for American mariners.”