As part of the celebration of National Maritime Day, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta today honored the men and women of the U.S. merchant marine who risk their lives on wartime seas. This year’s ceremony at Navy Memorial Auditorium paid special tribute to the action of mariners during World War II.
Following the presentation of the colors and a moment of silence, Secretary Mineta spoke of WWII merchant mariners who sacrificed their lives in service to the nation. "They traveled unarmed, often into dangerous waters, to support our Armed Forces overseas. Their work was vital to the Allied cause, and without their sacrifice our freedom might have been lost."
Merchant mariners crewed the Liberty ships, the Victory ships, and thousands of other ships that carried troops and many tons of materiel for the Allied cause in World War II. Nearly 215,000 people served in the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II, and nearly one mariner in 30 died in the line of duty. In fact, the Merchant Marine suffered higher casualty rates than any branch of the Armed Services except the Marine Corps.
The Secretary also received the American Spirit Medallion, which was presented by National D-Day Museum President and CEO Gordon H. Mueller. The American Spirit Medallion is awarded to individuals who exemplify the optimism, courage and sacrifice that characterizes what has been called the "greatest generation."
"I am deeply honored to receive the American Spirit Medallion," said Secretary Mineta. "I genuinely appreciate the fine work that all of you do at the museum every day."
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administrator Captain William G. Schubert noted that the U.S. Merchant Marine was founded in 1775, and has served in every conflict in United States history. "Merchant Mariners were
ready to serve their country at a moment’s notice in the past, are prepared to do so now, and will continue to be prepared in the future," he said.
Maritime Day was established in 1933, and honors the courage, vision, and achievements of the American Merchant Marine. The ceremony was attended by merchant marine veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.