Memorial Day is more than just an opportunity to hit the road for three days; it's an occasion to honor the sacrifice made by those who died serving their nation.
President Barack Obama is reflected in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall as he delivers remarks during the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemoration ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
And yesterday, Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari joined President Obama and other distinguished participants in a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Deputy Secretary Porcari was accompanied by the Maritime Administration's Director of Ship Operations Bill Cahill.
As a graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, Bill had a commission in the US Naval Reserve. In 1968, while serving as a merchant marine officer, he was called to active duty and served two tours in Vietnam.
Bill's USNR commission is common to all midshipmen at the US Merchant Marine Academy and to those at the state maritime academies. But even when they are not called to active duty, many of America's merchant mariners serve their nation through sealift operations that support our military overseas.
During the Vietnam War, 172 ships were activated from the National Reserve Defense Fleet and assigned to commercial shippers to support American military forces.
Next to the loss of the Badger State, the largest single loss of life for merchant mariners in the Vietnam War and the largest due to enemy action was the mining near Saigon of the MARAD National Defense Reserve Fleet's SS Baton Rouge Victory. On August 23, 1966, that tragedy killed seven mariners.
The 56 US Merchant Mariners who died during the Vietnam War served on ships that brought mail, helicopters, ammunition, food, medical supplies, and more. They carried troops and brought home many of those whose names are found on the Vietnam Memorial.
U.S. Merchant Mariners have paid the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts across our nation's history. For their service, we say thank you.