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

GabeAmerican History(BR), Bell Ringers

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. This 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? It that kind of community attractive to you?
  3. What difference to the American spirit do you think would exist if we were a landlocked country – say Mongolia, or Russia much of the year?

Image Citation:

15, May 2018, The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald [Digital photograph].  Retrieved from <>.