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  1. The Merchant Marines are a group of civilian merchant ships who participate in trade in and around United States waters, including oceans, the Great Lakes, canals and interior seaways. During peace time, they mainly transport trade goods and passengers, but during wartime they are converted into a support branch of the U.S. military, where they serve as military transport. As this military auxiliary, they are considered military personnel and assist in transporting military personnel and supplies all over the world.


  2. The first actions of privateers in the aid of the U.S. government predate even the formation of the Navy and the Coast Guard. It began when a British ship was seized by colonists off the coast of Maine on June 12, 1775. When the colonists would not surrender the ship and its cargo of valuable lumber--destined to be used to build a British outpost--word was sent to Boston. From there, letters were sent out to ships with orders to disrupt British shipping lines. The privateers succeeded in disrupting trade not just along the American coast, but across the Atlantic as well.
    The Coast Guard was formed in 1790 and the Navy in 1797, and the Merchant Marines remained an invaluable auxiliary.
    The Merchant Marines have been active in nearly every war since. In World War II, thousands of Merchant Marines died in enemy waters carrying much-needed supplies to war-torn Europe. During the Vietnam War, nearly 95 percent of supplies were carried by Merchant Marine vessels. They have also been used in the Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm/Operation Desert Shield and the Iraq War.


  3. Merchant marine vessels include tankers, cargo ships and passenger ships. In the past, they included a much wider range of vessels. These ships have included not only cargo and passenger ships, but also tugboats, ferries, dredges, towboats, and excursion vessels. All members of the sailing occupations can be considered Merchant Marines, from the first mate, the captain and the pilot to ship's engineers, able seamen, ordinary seamen, marine oilers and boatswains--even the cooks.


  4. As of 2008, the fleet of the Merchant Marines includes 465 ships and nearly 70,000 personnel. There are also more than 700 ships flagged for American use that are not American-owned ships, but are instead owned by American interests.
    The number of ships has varied over the course of history. In World War II, more than 220,000 individuals served in the Merchant Marines (8,615 died in foreign waters). 540 ships were activated into military service during the Korean War, and hundreds of ships have been involved in emergency shipping routes, such as emergency shipments of coal to Northern Europe in the early 1950s. Smaller fleets can be activated as well. Four ships were called into service to help aid the survivors of Hurricane Mitch in 1988.


  5. Merchant Mariners can serve a lifetime without ever being considered military personnel. The Merchant Marine Act of 1936 officially made those who served during wartime military personnel, but it was not until 1988 and President Ronald Reagan that they were given military benefits for serving in wartime. In addition to being governed by U.S. laws to prevent unsafe practices aboard ships, they are also governed by international laws that have been set in place to ensure safety and cut back on pollution.




*According to the Department of Defense Directive 1005.8, the prescribed precedence of military flags is determined by service birthdays.  According to the institute of Heraldry, and in keeping with the order in which troops are listed in Department of Defense Directive 1005.8, during peacetime the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security. If during wartime, the Coast Guard is called into service under the control of the Department of Defense, then the Coast Guard flag would come before the Air Force flag in order of precedence.

The Merchant Marine, Vietnam Veterans and POW/MIA flags can be displayed following the military flags. There is some latitude in the order of display regarding these three flags. Our government has not officially recognized the Merchant Marines as being a branch of the military (its members are often not given veteran’s status), but we feel it is appropriate to honor them as a military branch and thus have placed their flag at the end of the military branches.

The Merchant Marines have been in the Revolutionary War, War 0f 1812, Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War l, World War ll, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and Ready Reserve Ships still in Iraq. The American Legion Recognizes the Merchant Marines for membership, depending on when and where they served.

Army Birthday (June 14, 1775)

Marine Corps Birthday (November 10, 1775)

Navy Birthday (October 13, 1775, Abolished February 1781, Reinstated (September 7, 1781)

Air Force Birthday (September 18, 1947)

*Coast Guard Birthday (August 4, 1790)

Merchant Marines Birthday (Enacted By Congress June 29, 1936)