This past weekend we celebrated Memorial Day, honoring the courage, sacrifice, and heroism of the many men and women of our Armed Services.
On Monday, Deputy Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen, along with other distinguished guests, participated in an event at the World War II Memorial commemorating these servicemen and their sacrifice. This year’s proceedings were especially unique because of a special ceremony where veteran merchant mariner James Van Splunder was finally awarded his service medals--68 years after his service.
Mr. Van Splunder served in World War II as a merchant mariner from 1944 through 1945, with a total of 401 days at sea. His service during that time--delivering ammunition and other combat essentials--took him all over the world supporting our national security.
Called the “fourth arm of defense”, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, more than 215,000 U.S. Merchant Marines served our nation during World War II. Our war effort relied on merchant mariners to get our troops, ammunition, and essential equipment to all corners of the world.
Their commitment and service was invaluable. And, as I wrote last week on National Maritime Day, it was not without risk.
Despite one of the highest casualty rates of any service branch during World War II, members of the Merchant Marine were not considered veterans until 1988. Only then did Congress turn its attention to supplementing the existing war zone bars with medals as additional recognition for WWII merchant mariners.
USMMA Midshipman McGowan poses with his mother, the Deputy Administrator, and Mrs. Jaenichen
Mariners like Mr. Van Splunder, all of whom were volunteers, served their nation capably and courageously through sealift operations supporting our military efforts overseas. By honoring their service, we help ensure that their devotion and sacrifice are not forgotten.
Yesterday, we again celebrated that "last full measure of devotion" alongside the sacrifice of their fellow veterans. However you honored America's fallen, I hope you enjoyed a very meaningful Memorial Day.