By Rear Adm. Dee Mewbourne
Commander, Military Sealift Command
As dawn broke over Machias Bay, Maine, on June 12, 1775, 32 men – armed with guns, swords, axes and pitchforks and led by a revolutionary firebrand named Jeremiah O’Brien – brought their commandeered sloop Unity quietly around the lee side of Round Island.
Their target, the British armed schooner Margaretta, immediately attempted to fire on the unarmed Unity, but Unity was too close. O’Brien commanded his crew to ram the British ship, boarding and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. By the end of an hour, the British captain was mortally wounded and the British ship had surrendered.
O’Brien and the Unity crew claimed four six-pound guns, 20 swivel guns, muskets, pistols and hand-grenades. Unity had become a warship for the soon-to-be proclaimed United States of America in this, considered to be the first, sea engagement of the Revolutionary War.
It was the beginning of American Merchant Mariner’s service to our nation, but not the last time they would go in harm’s way for the ideals of freedom and democracy.
It’s been the same ever since, from the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII, to the war in Korea where our Mariners moved the 24th Infantry Division from garrison duty in Japan to Pusan, Korea only 11 days after the invasion of the 38th parallel, to Vietnam where the Mariners of Military Sea Transportation Service moved supplies to Vietnamese ports and on the river to Saigon.
From Desert Storm to Bosnia, from Afghanistan to Operation Iraqi Freedom, America’s Merchant Mariners continue to serve on the leading edge of our defense transportation system, carrying the combat equipment and supplies needed by our joint warfighters.
To carry that logistics power to the fight, we have always relied on our Merchant Marine. And they have always answered the call. Despite the dangers and long separations from home, our U.S. Merchant Marine has sailed in harm’s way time and time again to make sure that American warfighters and our allies have had the supplies they need to overwhelm our adversaries.
In some war planning room right now, there is a potential adversary weighing their odds of victory in a fight against the United States. The one factor they will grossly underestimate is the courage of the U.S. Mariner.
I can assure you that U.S. Mariners will be there, reliably and bravely manning our ships – even if the seas become a battlefield.
United we sail.