KINGS POINT, N.Y., May 24, 2016 - The United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) at Kings Point celebrated National Maritime Day, yesterday. The day was filled with events that highlighted the critical role that the U.S. maritime industry has played since the infancy of our nation.
After Capt. Sean Tortora, USMS, a Master Mariner and professor in the Department of Marine Transportation, read the Presidential Proclamation to the Regiment of Midshipmen, faculty, staff and guests, the group came together for a special luncheon in Delano Hall, during which Tortora delivered a very touching and inspirational speech, “The Legacy of the U.S. Merchant Marine.” He spoke of our nation’s heroes, Commodore John Barry and Captain John Paul Jones – among others. He explained, “it may be interesting to know, the two men who share the moniker of ‘Father of American Navy,’ were both Merchant Mariners. Yes, this may surprise you, but none other than John Paul Jones and John Barry, were both Merchant Mariners first, before they were naval officers.“
He went on to quote Presidents who have expressed their admiration and gratitude to the U.S. Merchant Marine. Quoting General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Tortora said, “Every man in this Allied command is quick to express his admiration for the loyalty, courage, and fortitude of the officers and men of the Merchant Marine. We count upon their efficiency and their utter devotion to duty as we do our own; they have never failed us yet and in all the struggles yet to come we know that they will never be deterred by any danger, hardship, or privation. When final victory is ours there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.”
Capt. Tortora also shared stories of his own father’s experience as an Engineer who survived the sinking of his vessel and capture by the Japanese forces during World War II. Several times during the speech, Tortora had to pause for cheers from over 700 future Merchant Marine Officers.
The crowd then walked over to the American Merchant Marine Museum where Dr. Joshua Smith, Ph.D., Interim Director of the Merchant Marine Museum, shared the museum’s latest exhibit, “How to Abandon a Ship: The Sinking of the SS Robin Moor.” The exhibit tells the story of story of the American freighter that was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in 1941, even before the official start of World War II. It uses a specially-commissioned ship model, painting, and a small book entitled “Outrageous and Indefensible” to bring the story to life. It also uses photographs taken by the survivors in the lifeboats, recreated radio broadcasts from 1941, and artifacts from the actual lifeboats to interpret the experience of being cast adrift in a lifeboat.
The afternoon transitioned into an evening focused on fun. For the first time in Academy history, Midshipmen Appreciation Day was celebrated on the same day as the National Maritime Day. Fueled by homemade cookies and treats provided by Cookie Café, midshipmen showed great skill while mastering jousting, the mechanical bull, and zip line. Later, they were victorious in the faculty versus midshipmen monomoy races. “It was awesome and everyone loved it,” said Midshipman 4th Class Aodhan Fogarty.
Superintendent Rear Adm James A. Helis, USMS, said, “today, we recognize the men and women of the U.S. maritime industry. We honor and thank those who have paved the way for our great maritime nation. We also celebrate the next generation of maritime professionals who are already committed to serving with distinction as their predecessors have. Happy Maritime Day!”
By Veronica Cassidy Barry
By a joint resolution of Congress approved May 20, 1933, May 22nd of each year is designated as National Maritime Day. Congress authorized and requested that the President of the United States issue a proclamation recognizing National Maritime Day and calling for its appropriate observance in ceremonies and events held throughout the country. During National Maritime Day, the country celebrates its proud maritime history and salutes the mariners who have transported American goods across the oceans in times of peace and war.