Hearing: Legislative Hearing On H.R. 23, H.R. 601, H.R. 2188, H.R. 2963, H.R. 4843, H.R. 5037, And H.R. 5038
Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for
this hearing on the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant
Marines of World War II Act" - H.R. 23.
The story of the World War II United States Merchant
Marines is a story of patriotism, of youthful exuberance, of
dedication to duty, of pride in a job well done, of bravery in
the midst of battle, and sadly, of a nation who forgot these
heroes for over 40 years after the war's end.
World War II Merchant Mariners suffered the highest
casualty rate of any of the branches of service while they
delivered troops, tanks, food, airplanes, fuel and other
needed supplies to every theater of the war. Troops were
trained and supplies, ammunition, and equipment were
manufactured in the U.S. and used overseas - and the
Merchant Mariners were the necessary link between the
two. Without them, we would not have been able to win the
war. It is as simple as that.
The Merchant Mariners took part in every invasion from
Normandy to Okinawa, often becoming sitting ducks for
enemy submarines, mines, bombers and kamikaze pilots.
Fighting was particularly fierce in the Atlantic, where
German submarines and U-boats prowled the ocean,
destroying Merchant Marine ships in an attempt to isolate
Compared to the large number of men and women serving
in World War II, the numbers of the Merchant Marines
were small, but their chance of dying during service was
extremely high. Estimates range up to 1500 for the number
of ships that enemy forces sank. 9300 Mariners lost their
lives, 600 were prisoners of war, and 11,000 were injured.
Yet, an injustice was inflicted on this group of World War II
veterans. All volunteers, once approximately 230,000 strong
(estimates range from 215,000 to 285,000), the number of
those currently living is estimated to be approximately
This group of brave men was denied their rights under the
G.I. Bill of Rights that Congress enacted in 1945. All those
who served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or
Coast Guard were recipients of benefits under the G.I. Bill.
Only the United States Merchant Marine was not included.
The Merchant Marine became the forgotten service. For
four decades, no effort was made to recognize their
contribution. The fact that Merchant Seamen had borne
arms during wartime in the defense of their country seemed
not to matter.
After years of fighting the system and a court battle, some
World War II Mariners finally received a "watered down
bill of rights" in 1988. But some portions of the G.I. Bill
have never been made available to veterans of the Merchant
What did this mean in practical terms? First and probably
most important, it meant no GI Bill educational benefits.
Instead of studying to become a lawyer, a teacher, a doctor,
or a number of other life-long professions that require a
higher education, many Merchant Mariners had to rely on
their high school education to get them a job. Lost
opportunities, lost careers, lost wages were the results for the
No low interest home loans were available to Merchant
Mariners. No lifetime compensation for related war injuries
and disabilities, no use of VA hospitals, no priority for local,
state, and federal jobs, no Social Security credit for wartime
service (a disparity that H.R. 23 addresses).
There is overwhelming support for this bill. At last count, a
bi-partisan list of 248 Members of Congress has endorsed
this bill. There is support from coast to coast - from the
City of Los Angeles, California to the City of New Bedford,
Massachusetts who have passed resolutions in support of
H.R. 23. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska has introduced a
companion bill in the Senate, S. 1272. I have received a
letter from Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta
expressing gratitude for the sacrifice Merchant Mariners
gave during World War II in defense of our country.
While it is impossible to make up for over 40 years of unpaid
benefits, I propose that this bill will acknowledge the service
of the veterans of the Merchant Marine and offer
compensation for years and years of lost benefits.
H.R. 23 will pay each eligible veteran a monthly benefit of
$1000, and that payment would also go to their surviving
spouses. Their average age is 82. Many have outlived their
savings. A monthly benefit to compensate for the loss of
nearly a lifetime of ineligibility for the GI Bill would be of
comfort and would provide some measure of security for
veterans of the Merchant Marines.
In the words of General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower,
Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, "When final victory
is ours, there is no organization that will share its credit
more deservedly than the Merchant Marine." And in the
words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "The (Mariners)
have written one of its most brilliant chapters. They have
delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater
of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most
difficult and most dangerous job ever taken."
I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation.
We can fix the injustices endured by our nation's Merchant
Marines by passing H.R. 23 as quickly as possible!