Military Sealift Command Honors Merchant Mariners Past and Present with National Maritime Day Celebration
22 May 2023
NORFOLK, Va. - Military Sealift Command (MSC) hosted a National Maritime Day celebration aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), May 22, honoring United States Merchant Mariners.
The event commenced with remarks from Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer, MSC Commander, and featured keynote speaker Mr. Dave Yoho, World War II Merchant Marine Veteran.
“The Department of Defense depends on the Merchant Marine to support 90 percent of our sealift requirements in national emergency, crisis or conflict,” said Wettlaufer. “Long serving as our nation's ‘fourth arm of defense,’ American mariners bravely faced combatants and pirates, pandemics and natural disasters. They answer the call to serve their fellow Americans in ways and in places many of our fellow citizens don’t know about.”
“Today, and every day, we honor our American mariners, especially our MSC Civil Service Mariners, past and present, courageous women and men who serve our nation.”
In 1944, Yoho enlisted in the United States Merchant Marines at just 16 years old. He was assigned to a T/2 Tanker ship, often referred to as a fleet oiler, which was sent to the South Pacific during World War II.
There was a great wave of patriotism after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which inspired thousands to join the United States Merchant Marines. These mariners would become a part of the 250 thousand who served during World War II, said Yoho.
“They moved 15 million tons of goods to Europe and the United Kingdom, eight million tons of goods to the Mediterranean, 13 million tons of goods to the Pacific Ocean, and five million tons to Russia.”
During his speech, Yoho recalled his experience as a young Merchant Marine during wartime.
“We were in great trouble when the war started. We were outmanned, outmaneuvered, out-gunned, and out-financed, but we took a collective stand,” said Yoho.
“I was a fireman water tender. I [asked an officer], ‘Sir, what’s the best way to get out of here if we take a hit?’ He said, ‘Kid, if we take a hit, you don’t get out of here.’ That’s the first time I realized we could get killed.”
“The Merchant Marine had the highest mortality rate of any of the services. One out of 26 of us died,” said Yoho. “I bring you my story in hopes that you will tell others. Tell them about [mariners], and say we gave up our yesterdays for their tomorrows. Tell them this is from a 16-year-old boy in a 95-year-old man’s body.”
After Yoho’s speech, the ceremony ended with a moment of silence for fallen mariners and the ringing of eight bells.
On May 20, 1933, Congress designated May 22 of each year as “National Maritime Day” to commemorate the first transoceanic voyage by steamship S.S. Savannah in 1819. The S.S. Savannah was the first steam-powered ship to successfully cross any ocean. Today, National Maritime Day celebrates the thousands of merchant mariners who serve on United States vessels around the world.