As Memorial Day approaches and signifies our national remembrance of our military heroes, let us not forget Saturday, May 22 was another special and somber day at the Port of Brownsville.
Sometimes overlooked, National Maritime Day is our annual remembrance to honor the sacrifices of thousands of U.S. merchant mariners who gave their lives serving our country at sea, as well as to recognize the service of merchant mariners today and throughout our history.
Established by a joint Resolution of Congress and by Proclamation of the President of the United States in 1933, National Maritime Day sets aside May 22nd each year – marking the departure of the first transoceanic voyage from the United States to Europe under steam power in 1819 – to remember the thousands of U.S. merchant mariners who lost the lives serving aboard American-flagged merchant ships. Thousands of women and men lost their lives in peacetime and in war supplying the needs of our troops deployed around the globe, often in hostile areas and almost always under-appreciated for their sacrifices.
“In Peace and War”
The merchant marine flag proudly declares “In Peace and War.” Throughout our history, merchant mariners have served during every conflict – Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and others, often at great peril to themselves. More than 8,600 merchant mariners died in World War I and World War II, which records show is the highest rate of casualties of any military branch, while many others were severely injured or taken as prisoners of war. After the 9/11 attacks on our country, it was U.S. merchant mariners who quickly rushed critical food, first aid and other supplies to those families trapped in Lower Manhattan.
In peacetime, merchant mariners continue serving their role in ensuring our forces have food, supplies and medicines to serve humanitarian missions around the world. They are the lifeline for communities ravaged by earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters, delivering food, medicines, clothing and supplies to care for victims today, as well as the generators, water pumps and other infrastructure to rebuild destroyed neighborhoods. Through their efforts, lives are saved, families can begin rebuilding out of the rubble, and hope shines in the darkness.
Today, merchant mariners are instrumental in ensuring that goods are available as our world emerges from the global COVID-19 pandemic. They are working to sustain the movement of essential goods to medical professionals, manufacturing plants, business and our communities. Despite the challenges we are facing in our national supply chain, the maritime workforce continues to be a vital part of our nation’s recovery.
Merchant Mariners at the Port of Brownsville
We also celebrate the service of merchant mariners here at the Port of Brownsville. Tugboat captains, deckhands, harbor pilots, and officers and crews of all U.S.-flagged vessels have played critical roles throughout our 85-year history in ensuring the steady flow of goods to serve the entire Rio Grande Valley. Through their dedication – day and night, sunshine and storm – essential goods flow between the Port of Brownsville and locations around the world, supporting thousands of local jobs and helping create economic opportunities for families throughout the Valley.
In peace and war, we owe these men and women a special thank-you for their service – and their sacrifice.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary is based upon an editorial penned by Brownsville Navigation District Chairman Sergio Tito Lopez. The editorial first appeared in the Port of Brownsville’s online newsletter. Lopez can be reached by email via: [email protected].
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