National Maritime Day and the WWII Merchant Mariners Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019

Leon’s medal wall (detail)

Today is National Maritime Day, honoring the United States Merchant Marine.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced to Congress: The WWII Merchant Mariners Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019 (H.R. 550 & S. 133).

The Gold Medal Act would issue “a single gold medal of appropriate design to the United States Merchant Mariners of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during World War II.”

That single gold medal would be given to the American Merchant Marine Museum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

The Secretary of the Treasury would also be empowered to strike and sell duplicates in bronze.

The AMMV’s take:

From a letter to Congress from the American Merchant Marine Veterans:

U.S. merchant mariners were the unsung heroes of World War II. Collectively, 250,000 merchant seamen served in this war delivering seven million servicemen to the war zone and tens of millions of tons of essential war equipment, ammunition, and other supplies. The U.S. Merchant Marine was the only integrated service in World War II, and a significant percentage of the mariners were African American.

No service suffered more losses and has received so little recognition. One out of every 26 merchant mariners was lost, the highest casualty rate of any service. 8,241 merchant mariners perished, and many others were captured as prisoners of war. 1,500 merchant ships were sunk, often essentially defenseless against enemy military vessels. World War II merchant mariners were promised benefits equivalent to the GI Bill by President Franklin Roosevelt; however, they waited 43 years (until 1988) and then only received limited benefits.

These merchant mariners traveled into war zones in the most challenging of situations, knowing the risk. Their bravery is indisputable and today only about 2,000 World War II merchant mariners remain. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory that literally changed the world, we hope you will join us in cosponsoring this legislation to ensure that these great American heroes receive the recognition that they deserve. We are proud to serve in an industry associated with these courageous men and women.

Source: “American Maritime Industry Rallies to Support WWII Merchant Marine Legislation

Ivan’s take:

It’s a wonderful idea to give a gold medal to the American Merchant Marine Museum and to offer bronze duplicates for sale to merchant mariners and their families.

Given the sacrifices they endured, the World War II Merchant Mariners duly earned their veterans’ status. Those merchant mariners were denied the GI Bill of Rights following the war, or even recognition as veterans until 1988. Moreover, the various attempts over the years to compensate them for being denied the GI Bill (i.e. with a monetary payment or annuity) also failed in Congress.

Today, we’re down to a relative handful of retired seamen in their nineties or older, and the best we can come up with is a gold medal for a museum and a replica in the gift shop. That seems like an appropriate gesture for our times, so sure, let’s do it.

The Gold Medal Act would also send a message to today’s youth that:

  • You may honorably serve your country whether or not you wear a uniform.
  • You may loyally uphold the principles and values of the U.S. Constitution without necessarily swearing an oath to the armed forces.
  • You may be called upon as a civilian to risk your life to ensure freedom from tyranny.
  • Your courage and sacrifices made today will be recognized and remembered with honor and respect.

Perhaps not immediately, but eventually and in due course, history will bear witness to all the heroes of our United States of America.