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Statement of Commissioner Louis E. Sola on Maritime Day 2020

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Maritime Day is a time-honored tradition that recognizes one of our country’s most important industries. Each year, in ceremonies and celebrations throughout the nation, we pay tribute to the people who work in this vital sector.

From even before the founding of the United States, Americans have turned to oceans, lakes, and rivers for commerce, transportation, and defensive purposes. Our nation has been a leader in maritime innovation, a prime example being the SS Savannah, an early hybrid vessel built in America which employed both a steam engine and sails. On May 22, 1819, she departed Savannah harbor and arrived in Liverpool, England on June 20th, thus marking the first successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a vessel with steam propulsion. Congress declared May 22nd as National Maritime Day in 1933 to celebrate the SS Savannah’s historic achievement.

Today, more than 90% of all trade now comes from international ocean routes made efficient by the containerizing of products founded by Malcom McLean.

Not only do we rely on mariners to move commerce, but to provide the backbone for supporting our armed forces protecting our interests and ideals around the world.

The contributions and sacrifices made by Merchant Mariners during World War II are legendary. Their efforts allowed the United States and its Allies to have the materials necessary to restore democracy to Europe and Asia. I have a personal appreciation for what they accomplished. I recall as a young child my grandfather, Sergeant Ernest Albiero, sharing with me his experience as part of the D-Day invasion, the largest ever military operation by sea. My grandfather turned 21 the night before the invasion and was still suffering from a secret celebration of his birthday. He recounted how he yearned for the landing craft doors just to open and face whatever hell be on the beach rather than spend one more moment on that boat. As much as he wanted to get ashore, he never would have been able to do so absent the boots, uniforms, weapons, ammunition, flotation devices, provisions, and so on that were carried across the Atlantic by merchant vessels.

I am honored to be able to lay a wreath at the National D-Day Memorial in Washington, D.C. in gratitude to my grandfather and his comrades for their bravery and in some cases, ultimate sacrifice. As I do so, I will also think of the Merchant Mariners who during World War II and through today support our troops and our economy. Just because these men and women work in anonymity does not mean they should be forgotten and I know all of us share the sentiment that crews still on ships need to be repatriated to their homes, American and foreign alike, as we are all brothers of the sea.

Louis E. Sola is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.