SACRAMENTO -- May 22 was National Maritime Day, honoring civilian merchant mariners that acted as our country's eyes and ears on the sea during WWII.
"We were different because we served as civilians," Kenneth Blue said. Blue, 92, was a a radio officer for seven cargo ships during WWII.
During the war, merchant mariners delivered troops and materials. Many died taking goods into battle zones.
"We did, from time to time, send what they called Red Alerts, which means they think the enemy is coming or present," Blue said. "So we go to general quarters, and when they find out there wasn't anything, we would all stand down, as they say."
Merchant mariners weren't recognized as veterans until 1988.
"They're business people. They're people in government who are not otherwise doing jobs that are related to security or to protecting our country," Northern California World Trade Center CEO Andrew Grant said. "And in times of great crisis, they step up. They make that commitment."
Blue said he was very proud to get veteran status -- 46 years after WWII.
National Maritime Day was first recognized in 1933 to commemorate the first transoceanic voyage by steam ship in 1819. Since then, it's been observed every May 22.
In 2016, the maritime industry facilitated the export of more than $475 billion in goods.