Maritime Day 2009 Observed at Smithsonian Museum

Photograph: Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivers keynote remarks to scores of attendees at the special Maritime Day observance inside the Smithsonians National Museum of American History, May 22, 2009.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivers keynote remarks to scores of attendees at the special Maritime Day observance inside the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, May 22, 2009.

WASHINGTON--The Maritime Administration conducted the 2009 Maritime Day observance inside the great halls of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History on May 22. The well-attended event was held just prior to that morning's grand opening of the museum's newest exhibit called: "On the Water: Stories from Maritime America."

Maritime Day was originally established by Congress in 1933 to commemorate the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion but since that time, it has developed into a day to honor the sacrifices of America's merchant mariners, and the contributions made to the nation by the U.S. maritime industry.

Guest speakers at this year's observance included U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Smithsonian Institute Secretary Dr. G. Wayne Clough, American History Museum Director Dr. Brent Glass, "On the Water" Project Director Paula Johnson, former Maritime Administrator Vice Adm. Albert Herberger, and the vice chairman of the board for the A.P. Moeller-Maersk company, Ane Uggla.

Secretary LaHood provided the keynote address, awarded medals to two surviving World War II merchant mariners, officially recognized the brave crew members from the Maersk Alabama, and helped cut the ribbon to open the museum's newest transportation exhibit.

While congratulating the museum on its fine new exhibit, the secretary paused to honor and remember America's fallen mariners.

"Time and again, civilian merchant mariners and their Navy and Coast Guard counterparts have bravely defended our nation and put themselves in danger to help others in need," said Secretary LaHood. "More than 6,000 American seafarers lost their lives in World War II--and nearly 150 students enrolled in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy also died serving their country..."

The secretary offered other examples of mariners who answered the call to duty in spite of danger including the mariners who rushed to aid the passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549 that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River earlier this year, and the merchant mariner crew of the Maersk Alabama who were captured by Somali pirates but survived with courage and dignity. Three crewmembers of the Alabama were in the audience—1st Mate Shane Murphy, 3rd Mate Colin Wright and 2nd Engineer Dick Matthews—and were asked by the secretary to stand and be recognized. They rose and were greeted with hearty applause.

A short while later during the secretary's remarks, thunderous applause and cheers were heard as he bestowed medals and campaign ribbons on two World War II merchant mariner veterans—E. Spurgeon "Spud" Campbell and Waldemar Semenov—both of whom came under enemy fire while delivering supplies to far-flung troops under very hazardous conditions and also managed to survive their sinking ships.

Following the medal presentation, a traditional wreath-laying ceremony was conducted in memory of all of America's fallen mariners while a lone Navy bugler sounded taps.

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