On May 25, Americans at home and abroad will pause to observe Memorial Day. Since the first observation on May 5, 1868, then called Declaration Day, it has been a day to remember, reflect upon, and appreciate those who sacrificed and gave their lives to defend our right to freedom in the United States. We owe our thanks and honor to those who served in conflict to protect our land and to keep America the land of the free for over two hundred years.
Memorial Day is a time for remembrance for the men and women who fought in America’s battles, and we acknowledge the tremendous contributions of those serving in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and the Coast Guard. There is another group that I would like to highlight, a group of service men and women who are often overlooked in the discussions about those who served our country.
Many associate the United States Merchant Marines with the role they play in the day-to-day operations on the seas in service of our national and global economies. Rarely mentioned is the role Mariners have played in supporting our war efforts dating back to the American Revolution. Since the time of the Revolutionary War through our current War on Terror, the Merchant Marines have carried critical supplies, equipment, and personnel to our Armed Forces, often through dangerous waters. The sacrifices of Mariners during World War II sailing through waters well-covered by German U-boats reflect the dangers that these servicemen encountered in duty to their country. One of every twenty-four Mariners lost their lives during the war, by far the highest casualty rate of any service group.
Two crewmembers of the SS Stephen Hopkins—Captain Paul Buck and Midshipman Edwin Joseph O’Hara—were posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for their role in sinking the German commerce raider Stier. Despite just one four-inch gun in defense against the heavily armed Nazi cruiser, the Hopkins crew sank the enemy’s ship, before going under itself. The few American survivors floated on a lifeboat for more than a month before reaching the coast of Brazil. Sadly, most of the crew lost their lives fighting to keep the seas free.
The freedoms that we enjoy were made possible by those individuals who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Our Armed Forces continue to maintain the same standard of commitment and honor that was declared over two hundred years ago. It is my hope that we will expand our acknowledgements of the successes of the brave Merchant Mariners by passing Assembly Resolution 105, which honors the United States Merchant Marine. On Monday, let us reflect on the sacrifices of all who died in service to defending our way of life, so that freedom can continue to ring across our great nation.