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Defense Sec James Mattis addresses Kings Point graduates.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis told the graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, “You’re going to be the fourth arm of the defense. You’re going to sustain our allies and fuel our ships and ferry our warriors.”

Mattis delivered the commencement address to 187 graduates at the Kings Point, NY, school on June 16.

“And I think whether you’re going to be at sea, you’re going to bind the muscles of American commerce and that’s simply a reality because as small as our merchant marine may be today, it is absolutely essential,” Mattis noted. “We’re going to need you as we see the storm clouds gather elsewhere as our diplomats are in a position where we have to buy time for them to solve problems.”

The secretary told the gathering of nearly 4,500 people that his father had been a merchant mariner during World War II. He relayed a 1935 quote from the leader who guided America’s effort during that war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, recalling his time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I: “’In the event of a war, American-flag ships are obviously needed not only for Naval auxiliary, but also for the maintenance of reasonable and necessary commercial intercourse. We should remember the lessons learned in the last war.’”

Mattis reminded the graduates and audience, “Those lessons that he was speaking to are timeless, and I would tell you the essential nature of an efficient and a resilient merchant marine that is fearless and that is what we still need today.”