The commander of U.S. Transportation Command honored U.S. merchant mariners, past and present, May 19 during Military Sealift Command's (MSC) annual National Maritime Day memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony at the historic Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
National Maritime Day, officially May 22, was established by Congress in 1933 and is observed each year to honor the contributions and sacrifices of U.S. merchant mariners in defense of the nation.
These dedicated men and women are frequently considered the unsung heroes of the nation's defense.
MSC is the largest employer of U.S. merchant mariners with more than 7,000 civil service and contract mariners deployed worldwide providing critical support to U.S. and allied warfighters around the world.
"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," said Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, commander, U.S. Transportation Command, to the more than 200 guests that included leaders from government and maritime industry.
At the heart of the formal military ceremony was the presentation of three commemorative wreaths in solemn remembrance of mariners lost at sea. During the presentation of the wreaths, the guests stood and service members, including McNabb and Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, commander, MSC, 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.
In addition to honoring mariners from generations past, the ceremony incorporated the next generation of mariners with the attendance of 25 cadets from the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education at Piney Point, Md. Two of these cadets, Apprentice Jason Allen and Apprentice Leo Onofrio, served as wreath tenders. Navy Yeoman 2nd Class Erika Cash, MSC's Junior Sailor of the Year, also served as wreath tender.
The ceremony also included an invocation and benediction by MSC Force Chaplain Capt. Paul I. Burmeister; a responsive reading led by Capt. Robert B. Seabrook, a civil service mariner and MSC port captain Pacific; and solo renditions of "The Navy Hymn" and "The Merchant Marine Song" by Erin Gantt, of MSC's Pre-positioning Program.
"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."
MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships at sea, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.