Veterans Day: Honoring The U.S. Merchant Marine

American Merchant Mariners' Memorial at Battery Park, New York City.

Published Nov 10, 2015 7:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Merchant Marine have a long and proud history serving U.S. interests abroad. So, on Veterans Day, November 11, The Maritime Executive Magazine would like to honor the men and women that have sailed and, in too many cases, have sacrificed all to keep the nation safe.

Since the end of the Second World War, merchant mariners have transported government cargoes and supported combat forces in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq and beyond. Today, over 7,000 licensed U.S. mariners work on Military Sealift Command (MSC) Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships, carrying out defense missions or maintaining readiness for the next activation. There are thousands more working in the maritime industry who are trained and ready to be called if they needed. ”

Their contributions to the nation defense have been recognized throughout history by the nation's leaders. In 2014, the Congress officially recognized the Jones Act sector as well- saying that the value of the American “maritime industry [is] unquestioned as the Department of Defense depends on United States domestic trades’ fleet . . . to carry military cargoes.”

During the Vietnam War, U.S. mariners risked their lives to deliver the weapons and supplies needed by U.S. forces. Dozens paid the ultimate price in combat and at sea. They worked to transport refugees from North to South and to get cargoes up the 35 mile river transit to Saigon. They transported floating bridges and Coast Guard patrol boats across the Pacific. In 1966, U.S. merchant vessels carried out the longest-distance troop transport in American history, from Boston to Saigon, a distance of over 12,000 miles.

Nearly 80 RRF vessels – about three quarters of the reserve merchant fleet – were activated as part of Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf War) in the early 1990s. During the buildup to the war, the thousands of U.S. mariners on U.S. ships accomplished one of the largest military sealifts in history, transporting four times the amount of materiel moved for the WWII Normandy invasion.

In addition, merchant mariners aboard MSC RRF ships were called up for relief deployments after Hurricane Mitch hit Central America in 1998, and for shipments in support of NATO actions in Bosnia in 1995 and 1996, for operations in Cuba and Haiti in 1994, and for missions in Somalia in 1992.

About 40 RRF vessels and countless merchant mariners have served with distinction in support of Operations Enduring Freedom (the war in Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom (the second Gulf War) in 2001-2010.

Merchant mariners serving in actions after 1946 have not had the benefit of veterans' status eligibility, and even if killed in combat – as in Vietnam – these mariners do not qualify for veterans' benefits like military funerals, disability coverage, or survivors' benefits. However the government has established distinguished service medals for merchant service in specific conflicts or in smaller-scale operations.

Today, U.S. merchant mariners deploy for government and military missions worldwide, aboard the “white fleet” vessels of NOAA and the Office of Naval Research, Missile Defense Agency ships like the SIU-crewed Pacific Tracker, or one of the 120 vessels of the MSC RRF. Many more in commercial maritime occupations are ready to serve if called. Their selfless dedication has kept us safe. They are veterans of conflicts near and far, their work essential to the national defense and to national interests abroad. We thank them for their service and for their sacrifice.