May 22 – Heave Ho! My Lads, Heave Ho! (official song of the Merchant Marine)

May 22 is National Maritime Day. The United States is a Maritime power. Today, the American Navy, while much smaller than during the Cold War, is by far the largest and most powerful in the world. As a result, the United States can project power almost anywhere in the world. By contrast, the economics of running a merchant fleet have meant that other countries far outstrip the United States in terms of the size of the merchant marine fleet of commercial ships. Leading the world are Indonesia and Panama, with more than double the U.S.s 3,611 ships. The United States is in fifth place, behind Japan and China. One benefit of being an island nation, is that the United States has never been seriously threatened with a military invasion.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic many nations began scaling back military operations; not the United States Navy. The U.S. Navy continued to run missions to ensure freedom of navigation and show its presence. This has not been without risk. On March 27, 2020 the USS Theadore Roosevelt docked in Guam with concerns of a mass spread of the coronavirus on board. Orders were given to stay on board where testing would take place. Captain Brett Cozier pleaded for permission to allow people to deboard the ship as proper procedures could not be followed to stop the spread of the virus. His pleads were ignored, and one of his letters was released and published in the San Fransisco Chronicle. Subsequently, Cozier was released of command due to raising “alarm bells unnecessarily.” At the time of his removal, 114 of 4,865 crew members had tested positive for COVID-19, later a confirmed 660 cases. As he disembarked he was applauded as a hero.

The US Navy has had an important effect on the character of the American people, as well as the policies the country can follow. Traveling by sea  and even the Great Lakes  brings with it significant risk, even today. On Nov. 24, 1975, the Edmond Fitzgerald, an iron ore ship traveling across Lake Superior, sank, killing all the crew.


  1. There was a time when running off to sea was a frequent teenage dream of those chaffing under the parental yoke. The life of the sailor was thought of as romantic, and full of adventure. Does that dream still persist? Do you imagine sailing the high seas? (or even working an Alaskan crab boat like in World’s Deadliest Catch? If so, what is attractive to you about it? If not, then do you have a substitute freedom dream?
  2. In the song about the Edmund Fitzgerald, do you get the sense that the world of sailors and their families formed a kind of community? If so, why? Is that kind of community attractive to you?
  3. Do you believe Captain Cozier made the right call? Are there times when orders given by authority and chains of command need to be broken?
Image Citation:

15, May 2018, The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald . Retrieved from <>.