I learned so much when researching history and things that should never be forgotten.
The Beginning of the Merchant Marines
As far back as 1775, and in every major U.S. conflict, Merchant Marines played a crucial role in defending the United States. The thirteen colonies had only thirty-one ships, while the British had over two hundred ships.
The motto of the Merchant Marines was Acta Non-Verba, or "Words Not Deeds."
The Continental Congress called upon merchant ships and privateers to defend the U.S. Some 55,000 men answered that call. The first encounter began in June 1775 when the Merchant Marines captured a British ship in Machintas Bay and used that ship to capture the HMS Margarette. After a two-day battle, the captain was killed and the crew captured. These men were not military but civilian patriots of America.
The British had at least sixteen prison ships for POWs along the shores of New York. These ships were a death trap for the men and infested with insects and disease, with the men being tortured. The worst was the HMS ship Jersey in Walkabout Bay, NY. By the end of the Revolutionary War, at least 11,000 men had died.
POWs of British Prison Ships 1775-1783
The British had little regard for the men who died on the prison ships. They simply threw their bodies overboard or dug shallow graves on shore. As a result, more American patriots died in the prison ships in New York Harbor than in all the battles of the Revolutionary War.
Years later, their bodies were recovered and interred in Ft. Green Park, Brooklyn, N.Y. A monument 149 feet high was erected with the remains were placed in a crypt in 1873
Dedicated in 1991, a monument designed by Marisol Escobar is found in Battery Park, New York.
There are several books about the Merchant Marines, one by Brian Herben, The Forgotten Heroes: The Heroic Story of the U.S. Merchant Marines.
Merchant Marines WW I and WWII
Merchant Marines were essential to deliver and supply troops during the wars with food, medicine, ammunition, and equipment for the military. Their ships were constantly torpedoed, bombed, shot at, and under siege. During WW II, 1554 ships were sunk, some 9500 merchant marines perished, and another 12,000 were wounded.
On a Christmas Radio broadcast, Bob Hope, in 1944, credited Merchant Marines with dedication and loyalty. General Douglas conveyed to the public the vital role they played in the war.
Yet, with all those casualties, they were NOT considered veterans until 1988, when a federal court recognized them as veterans but only covered WW II dates. Other military men returning home from war received benefits, went to college, and bought houses on the GI Bill but not for Merchant Marines.
In 2020, after decades of ignoring them, Congress presented Merchant Marines with Gold Medal for their courage and contributions to the war. The medal is displayed in the American Merchant Marine Museum, Kings Point, N.Y. Surviving Merchant Marines of WW II will receive a bronze replica.
Dave Yoho, age 94, a Merchant Marine who attended the ceremony for the Gold Medal, had this to say:
...remember us as we say we gave up our yesterdays so you could have a better tomorrow."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called their mission the most complex and dangerous transporting job undertaken.
The United States Merchant Marine Academy
Known simply as USMMA and located at 300 Steamboat, Kings Point, New York, 516-726-6047 and dedicated in 1943. The academy educates and graduates leaders who are committed to serving as security, marine transport, and economic needs. They will operate commercial and military transport during peace and war.
Graduates will receive a Bachelor of Science and license as Merchant Marine Officer. The school is very selective. Students are called midshipmen. After graduation, 100 % will obtain a well-paying job within six months. Graduates are well sought after.