Witness Testimony of The Honorable G.K. Butterfield, U.S. House of Representatives
Chairman Runyan, Ranking Member Titus, and members of the subcommittee, thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to testify in support of my bill H. R. 1288, the World War II Merchant Mariner Service Act. Seeing this bill signed into law is a personal priority and I am hopeful that this hearing signals that I am one step closer to achieving that goal on behalf of coastwise World War II Merchant Mariners.
As this Subcommittee knows all too well, ensuring that individuals who sacrificed so much in service to our country receive the recognition they deserve is one of the most important jobs we have as Members of Congress. For the past three Congresses, I have led a strong bipartisan effort to recognize individuals that served our country during World War II in the Merchant Marine. In this Congress, I am again joined by a strong bipartisan coalition of, at present, 84 cosponsors, in support of H. R. 1288. Five of the bill’s cosponsors are members of this Committee including full committee Ranking Member Michaud, and I thank each of them for their support. Passing this bill is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.
My bill is very simple. It would expand the types of documentation accepted by the federal government when a very small group of mariners that operated tugboats and barges domestically during World War II apply for veterans’ status. Once recognized as a veteran, they would be provided benefits limited only to burial and a U.S. flag. Let me repeat that – qualifying Merchant Mariners, who can prove service through expanded acceptable documentation, would receive only burial benefits and the honor of being recognized by their country for their sacrifice and service. My bill does not provide for health coverage, disability payments, or payouts of any kind to Merchant Mariners who served during World War II and does not impact direct spending.
Currently, the required documents to satisfactorily prove service no longer exist or can be extremely hard to find. I have included documents in my submitted testimony that demonstrate that many of these necessary documents no longer exist or never existed, largely because of decisions by the government over several decades, and I ask they be included in the record.
As a veteran of the United States Army, it is important to note that this bill takes nothing away from the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve our country in our traditional armed forces. It does not diminish the importance of their sacrifices and does not reduce the esteem in which we all hold veterans of our traditional armed forces. These mariners have gone unrecognized for more than 70 years, and they deserve to be recognized for their service because they too helped to protect the freedoms we all cherish as Americans.
My bipartisan bill has been scored by the Congressional Budget Office to have an “insignificant and de minimis” effect on direct spending over a 10 year period. Let me repeat that – the non-partisan CBO has scored this bill as not impacting direct spending.
Estimates show that fewer than 2,000 of these mariners who served the United States during World War II are still living. In fact, it’s very possible that there are only hundreds of left today. Colleagues, we are quickly running out of time to recognize these few remaining Americans that stood up for freedom and democracy when their country needed their help. Without weapons or formal training, these brave folks risked their lives, and tragically too many gave their lives in defense of our great nation. For those that are still living, we must not let their efforts and contributions go unrecognized while we still have a chance. The passing of Senator Lautenberg, the last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate, is a strong reminder to all of us in Congress that if we are to honor and recognize these Merchant Mariners, the time to do so is now.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Titus, colleagues, I thank you for allowing me the time to speak on this important issue today. I strongly encourage you to support H. R. 1288 and urge you to schedule a markup soon so that these few remaining unsung American heroes have a chance to gain the recognition they rightly deserve.
I am happy to answer any questions that members of the subcommittee may have.