Hearing on H.R. 23, the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2007".
H.R. 23, THE "BELATED THANK YOU TO THE MERCHANT MARINERS OF WORLD WAR II ACT OF 2007"
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
April 18, 2007
Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs
SERIAL No. 110-12
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
STEVE BUYER, Indiana, Ranking
Malcom A. Shorter, Staff Director
Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public hearing records of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs are also published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the official version. Because electronic submissions are used to prepare both printed and electronic versions of the hearing record, the process of converting between various electronic formats may introduce unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the current publication process and should diminish as the process is further refined.
C O N T E N T S
April 18, 2007
H.R. 23, the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2007"
Chairman Bob Filner
Prepared statement of Chairman Filner
Hon. Steve Buyer, Ranking Republican Member
Prepared statement of Congressman Buyer
Hon. Harry E. Mitchell, prepared statement of
Hon. Michael F. Doyle, prepared statement of
Hon. Carol Shea-Porter, prepared statement of
American Merchant Marine Veterans, Inc.:
Francis J. Dooley, Esq., National President, West Orange, NJ
Prepared statement of Mr. Dooley
Gloria Flora Nicolich, Public Relations Director and Regional Vice President,
Northeast Region, Brooklyn, NY
Prepared statement of Ms. Nicolich
James Burton "Burt" Young, Regional Vice President, Central Region, Lincoln, NE
Prepared statement of Mr. Young
Felknor, Bruce, Evanston, IL, Author, "U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945,"
as presented by the Hon. Janice D. Schakowsky, a Representative in Congress
from the State of Illinois
Prepared statement of Mr. Felknor
Gleeson, Mark S., Oakmont, PA
Prepared statement of Mr. Gleeson
Herbert, Brian, Bainbridge Island, WA, Author, "The Forgotten Heroes: The Heroic
Story of the United States Merchant Marine"
Prepared statement of Mr. Herbert
Jackson, William, Oakland, CA, Chief Engineer, SS Red Oak Victory Ship
Prepared statement of Mr. Jackson
Just Compensation Committee:
Ian T. Allison, Co-Chairman, Santa Rosa, CA
Prepared statement of Mr. Allison
Herman "Hank" Rosen, Co-Chairman, San Diego, CA
Prepared statement of Mr. Rosen
Schakowsky, Hon. Janice D., a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois,
presenting the statement of Bruce Felknor, Evanston, IL, Author, "U.S.
Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945"
Starnes, H. Gerald, St. Augustine, FL
Prepared statement of Mr. Starnes
Willner, Stanley, New York, NY
Prepared statement of Mr. Willner
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
American Maritime Officers, Thomas Bethel, President; Timothy A. Brown, President, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots; Ron Davis, President, Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association; and Michael Sacco, President, Seafarers International Union, joint letter
American Merchant Marine at War, Tamara Horodysky, Webmistress, Berkeley, CA, statement
American Veterans (AMVETS), Kimo S. Hollingsworth, National Legislative Director, statement
Beaumont, Dean, Scottsdale, AZ, statement
Brown, Hon. Corrine, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida, statement
Chomsky, Joseph, East Meadow, NY, statement
Coughlin, Francis R., M.D., JD, New Canaan, CT, statement
Flury, William B., Eagle Point, OR, statement
International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, Timothy A. Brown, President; Thomas Bethel, President, American Maritime Officers; Ron Davis, President, Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association; and Michael Sacco, President, Seafarers International Union, joint letter
Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, Ron Davis, President; Thomas Bethel, President, American Maritime Officers; Timothy A. Brown, President, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots; and Michael Sacco, President, Seafarers International Union, joint letter
Leback, Capt. Warren G., San Francisco, CA (former Deputy Maritime Administrator, Maritime Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1985), letter
Mineta, Hon. Norman Y., Washington, DC (former Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2001-2006), (former Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000), (former Representative in Congress from the State of California, 1975-1996), statement
National Association for Uniformed Services, Springfield, VA, statement
Nelson, Hon. E. Benjamin, a United States Senator from the State of Nebraska
Seafarers International Union, Michael Sacco, President; Thomas Bethel, President, American Maritime Officers; Timothy A. Brown, President, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots; and Ron Davis, President, Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, joint letter
U.S. Maritime Service Veterans, Daniel Horodysky, Chief Executive Officer, Berkeley, CA, statement
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Foundation, Kings Point, NY, Eugene F. McCormick, President and Chief Executive Officer, letter
MATERIAL SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD
Post-Hearing Questions and Responses for the Record:
H.R. 23, THE "BELATED THANK YOU TO THE MERCHANT MARINERS OF WORLD WAR II ACT OF 2007"
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
U. S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:37 a.m. in Room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Bob Filner [Chairman of the Committee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Filner, Michaud, Herseth, Sandlin, Mitchell, Hall, Hare, Doyle, Berkley, Salazar, Rodriguez, Donnelly, McNerney, Space, Walz, Buyer, Brown of South Carolina, Miller, Boozman, Brown-Waite, Bilbray, Lamborn, Bilirakis, Buchanan.
Also Present: Representative Shea-Porter.
The CHAIRMAN. And we now proceed to our full Committee hearing on H.R. 23, the "Belated Thank You to Merchant Marines of World War II Act of 2007."
I ask unanimous consent that our colleague, Ms. Shea-Porter from New Hampshire, be invited to sit at the dais for the full Committee hearing.
The CHAIRMAN. And hearing no objection, she will be allowed to do that.
And I also ask unanimous consent that all members have five legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks.
The CHAIRMAN. Hearing no objection, so ordered.
We have several people who are—if panel one would come and join us those who are on panel one please join us at the table. Several witnesses could not be here. And I ask unanimous consent that statements submitted by Mr. Norman Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation and former Congressman, Mr. Dean Beaumont, Mr. Joseph Chomsky, Mr. Daniel Horodysky, Mr. Warren Leback, and the National Association for Uniformed Services, be made a part of the hearing record.
The CHAIRMAN. Hearing no objection, so ordered.
[The statements appears in the Submissions for the Record.]
The CHAIRMAN. I am sorry. Senator Nelson, who has put forth a similar bill in the Senate, was going to be panel one. He is unable to join us this morning. So we will go to panel two.
Let me say to my colleagues, I thank you for allowing us to hear this bill this morning. We have been focused on all the headlines and all the stories of Walter Reed and others about the need to deal with our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan in a much more thorough, comprehensive, empathetic way. And this Committee is committed to do that.
Yet we have other veterans going back to World War II, Vietnam, Korea, who also have needs and need our support. And we will do that also.
I think many of you know that the Merchant Mariners were a vital part of our efforts during World War II. Anybody who talks of the greatest generation has to talk about Merchant Mariners.
They made sure that all the equipment, all the food, all the supplies, all the ammunition was delivered to our fighting forces at the fronts. They suffered casualties higher than any other service in the war. And you will hear stories about what they were able to accomplish and why they deserve our term of heroes. And yet, as one of them said to me, they were so busy getting the troops back after the war, that they didn't pay attention to what was going on in Washington. And the very important GI Bill in 1944 was passed without them included. A GI Bill, which we know, that made the middle class in America.
And I think all of us—I could testify of my own family. My father came back from World War II, was able to get an education. But we were able to buy a house for very little money, which gave us a chance to pursue the American dream.
The Merchant Mariners were not given that chance. They were denied all benefits and only in 1988, as a result of a court action, and the plaintiff in that hearing is with us today, were they considered veterans. But it was too late for them to take advantage of the GI Bill.
We are talking now about 61 years later. Most of them are not even with us today. The ones that are remaining are in their 80s, some 90.
I introduced what I called the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant Marines of World War II of 2007," which gives them a token compensation basically for all the years that we were not able to help. And I would ask that we listen to the testimony carefully, that we understand their heroism, and that we try to provide for that belated thank you.
Mr. Buyer, if you have an opening statement, I would be glad to hear it.
[The statement of Chairman Filner appears in the Appendix.]
Mr. BUYER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, and I want to thank the witnesses for coming here and your testimony. And I also thank you for your service to our country.
We are here today to discuss the question of equity. Whether it is equitable to pay Merchant Mariners, veterans of World War II, a thank you payment for their service during the war.
Anyone with even a passing acquaintance of the contributions of these Mariners to the war effort cannot doubt their bravery. During the early war years, during 1942, more allied merchant ships were sunk than built. Yet they sailed on. Their cargo helped keep our allies fighting while America prepared its full force.
The law recognized two groups of Merchant Mariners, those who served before the Japanese surrender in August 1945 and those who joined after that date.
On January 17th, 1988, Merchant Mariners, who served between the start of the war on December 7th, 1941, and the surrender of Japan on August 15th, 1945, received full veterans' benefits and status. Granting of veterans' status was made possible by the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977, Public Law 95-202.
The law also created the administrative process by which civilian or contract employees could apply to the Secretary of Defense for veterans' status to obtain VA benefits. The Secretary in turn designated the Secretary of the Air Force to be DoD's executive agent to administer this process.
The first group of Merchant Mariners to have access to VA healthcare, they also have access to disability compensation, pension, loan guarantee, education, insurance, and burial and death benefits.
On October 10th, 1998, the House passed H.R. 4110, the "Veterans' Programs Enhancement Acts of 1998," which was signed into law on November 11th, 1998. This bill gave limited benefits to the post-surrender group of Merchant Mariners who served between August 16th, 1945, and December 31, 1946. The bill also provided eligibility for burial benefits and internment in a national cemetery.
What is before us today is the discussion of H.R. 23, which is entitled, the "Belated Thank You to Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2007." This bill would give $1,000 per month payment, tax free to Merchant Mariners and their surviving spouses.
Mr. Chairman, this equates to giving these veterans a non-service pension income, which is something we would not do for any other veterans except one group and that would be the recipients of the Medal of Honor.
I must point out that H.R. 23 has no provision to pay for the benefits offered under this bill. That means this bill cannot pass unless this Committee finds the offsets or Chairman Spratt of the Budget Committee provides new funding.
Yesterday, CBO estimated the bill to cost at $40 million for the first years and $2.9 billion over ten. In short, thank you funds for Merchant Mariners do not exist.
If equity is truly your objective, I am curious why we are not also following your line of reasoning, discussing similar payments to 32 other World War II civilian groups that receive veterans' status under Public Law 95-202. Consider the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, the famed Flying Tigers, and all other groups, which gained their status decades after their service. They served loyally, selflessly, and courageously. Their service contributed directly to the victory in World War II. Yet this bill does nothing for them.
The 2006 edition of Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents, contains a complete list of these groups beginning on page 64.
Mr. Chairman, you have also promised to pay certain Filipino veterans of World War II hundreds of millions of dollars from the 2008 budget reserve.
In fact, there is no money. Yet these honorable, aging veterans of World War II in the Pacific ,as well as their wives, believe in good faith, somehow, that money is coming their way, which in reality, is not.
The difficult reality is that under the PAYGO, money must be found. It has not been found for the Filipino veterans. And apparently this bill for Merchant Mariners faces the very same problem. Set aside the question of just how the figure of $1,000 was arrived at—it is still rather curious to me.
My understanding is, as of right now, that in order to receive the $1,000 payment, Merchant Mariners must, according to the bill, certify to the Secretary of Transportation that they served during World War II.
My understanding is that all records for Merchant Mariner's service during World War II are kept by the United States Coast Guard, which has been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. However, the bill requires the Merchant Mariners to apply for benefits to the Secretary of Transportation.
So my question is who will certify a Merchant Mariner's record? Will it be the Secretary of Transportation, or do we need to amend this bill for it to be the Secretary of Homeland Security?
At this point I will pause. And I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses. I yield back.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The statement of Congressman Buyer appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Buyer. And, again, you raise some very good questions. And I hope the panelists might address some of them as we go along.
On panel two we have the co-chair of the Just Compensation Committee. A U.S. Merchant Marine combat veteran, Ian Allison, who has worked—there is no word I can say how hard you have worked to get to this point. So thank you Mr. Allison. You have five minutes.
STATEMENTS OF IAN T. ALLISON, CO-CHAIRMAN, JUST COMPENSATION COMMITTEE, SANTA ROSA, CA (U.S. MERCHANT MARINE COMBAT VETERAN); JAMES BURTON "BURT" YOUNG, REGIONAL VICE PRESIDENT, CENTRAL REGION, AMERICAN MERCHANT MARINE VETERANS, INC., LINCOLN, NE (U.S. MERCHANT MARINE COMBAT VETERAN); WILLIAM JACKSON, OAKLAND, CA, CHIEF ENGINEER, SS RED OAK VICTORY SHIP (U.S. MERCHANT MARINE COMBAT VETERAN); GLORIA FLORA NICOLICH, PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR AND REGIONAL VICE PRESIDENT, NORTHEAST REGION, AMERICAN MERCHANT MARINE VETERANS, INC., BROOKLYN, NY; FRANCIS J. DOOLEY, ESQ., NATIONAL PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MERCHANT MARINE VETERANS, INC., WEST ORANGE, NJ (U.S. MERCHANT MARINE COMBAT VETERAN); GERALD H. STARNES, ST. AUGUSTINE, FL (U.S. MERCHANT MARINE COMBAT VETERAN); AND STANLEY WILLNER, NEW YORK, NY (U.S. MERCHANT MARINE COMBAT VETERAN AND FORMER POW)
Mr. ALLISON. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the—
The CHAIRMAN. Can you make sure his microphone is on?
Mr. ALLISON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. My name is Ian Allison. I am Co-Chairman of the Just Compensation Committee, a non-profit, unincorporated association of Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II, registered with Internal Revenue Service.
Our 10,800 members have joined together seeking equal treatment for all veterans of World War II who shared the loss of 20 million people on this earth who participated voluntarily or otherwise in this great war.
I would like to submit as evidence as this Veterans' Affairs Committee, hearing on H.R. 23, a famous book entitled, "A Careless Word, A Needless Sinking," by Captain Arthur R. Moore. I recognize that at 704 pages, it is too great to become part of this electronic record and acceptance for printing. But submit it as an exhibit material maintained in the Committee files for review and use by the Committee.
The book accounts for 820 American ships, freighters, tankers, passenger and troop ships lost at sea in World War II. Over 9,000 Merchant seamen were killed or lost in action, 12,000 wounded or maimed, and 786 prisoners of war taken by the enemy. The majority of these lost souls lay in Davy Jones' locker at the bottom of the sea without markers or tombstones to show their grave sites.
What depraved men brand these gallant Mariner's we lost at sea as draft dodgers? I want to repeat that. What depraved men branded these gallant Mariner's we lost at sea as draft dodgers?
As an engineer working in the bowels of a gasoline tanker plying the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific and facing the German and Japanese submarines, I never met a fellow soldier, sailor, or Marine, or airmen who would trade places with me in a gasoline tanker.
I would like to tell you the story of the one lost ship that I picked at random. The same story could be told of 819 other ships with death and destruction, the penalties of war. The SS Jacksonville, a T2 tanker, built at the Swan Island Ship Yards by Henry Kaiser in Portland, Oregon, in 1944.
On August 30th, 1944, a torpedo hit the ship just after the midship house. A fire broke out and the 80-octane gas covered the ship stem to stern, in flames. A second explosion broke the ship in two. With both parts still burning, the ship sank quickly, the stern section sinking the next day. There were no lifeboats or raft launch. There wasn't time. Out of the 78 men on board, the only two survivors jumped overboard into the flaming water and swam away from the ship. They were picked up by a U.S. destroyer and escort and taken to Ireland.
By the grace of God there go I. It could have been my ship. I sailed three years during the war in the engine room on a gasoline tanker built in Portland, Oregon—pardon me—by Henry J. Kaiser. I came out unscathed. But 9,000 of my comrades did not.
Why, why were these gallant members of the Merchant Marines who suffered the highest casualty rate of the war, with one out of twenty-six dying, left out of the 1944 G.I. Bill of Rights? Some warped minds were at work to have engineered this travesty. I'm going to repeat that. Some warped minds were at work to have engineered this travesty. I can only speculate after 60 years of thought and observation. I have come to the conclusion in general these three things stirred up jealousy and animosity about the Merchant Mariners.
We had no discrimination in our ranks. Whereby, we accepted blacks, Hispanics, and aliens into our ranks. Some of them became ship's officers and up to four stripe ranks of captain and chief engineers. None of the other services were as non-discriminatory as the Merchant Marine. Discrimination was still rampant in America during the war and seems to be today with our Imus situation.
Merchant Mariners didn't wait to be drafted. We were all volunteers. Both Japanese and German Navies took their toll on our men both before and after World War II.
Our all-volunteer crews on the U.S. Merchant ships during World War II were union members of one of many union organizations representing unlicensed personnel and officers alike. None of the other services in the U.S. forces had legally incorporated organizations to represent their interests as to pay, transportation, living conditions, and more.
These were all pre-war organizations, which were a great boon and offered efficiency to the war effort. There was 50 or more shipping companies and ship owners and ten or more unions that were the embryo of the World War II Merchant Marine. And it was fortunate President Roosevelt recognized that and started the Merchant Mariners Organization of World War II.
I am sure the members of the Committee, after intelligent review of the history and facts about World War II, will be convinced of the necessity of passing our bill, H.R. 23.
Thank you for your time in listening to my testimony given this 18th day of April 2007. I will be glad to answer questions at the appropriate time. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Allison. And thank you for all your leadership on this.
[The statement of Mr. Allison appears in the Appendix and the referenced book is being retained in the Committee files.]
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Burt Young who is the Central Regional Vice President of the American Merchant Marine Veterans and also a combat veteran. Thank you for your service, Mr. Young.
Mr. YOUNG. Okay. Members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, it is indeed an honor to be able to express our views on H.R. 23, the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant Marines of World War II."
We are here because we were not treated the same as the other services at the end of World War II. We have found we had the highest death rate of any of the services. Our death rate was one in twenty-six, Marines one in thirty-three, Army one in forty-eight, Navy one in hundred and fourteen, Coast Guard one in four hundred and eight. Does that sound like we were civilians? Apparently the enemy didn't think so.
As my friend, Captain Matt Drag, stated, "At no time during the war was I called a civilian, only afterwards." My friend, Matt Drag, also wrote on Pearl Harbor Day, "I was Third Officer aboard an American Merchant vessel. At this time, I held a commission as Ensign in the United States Navy Reserve. At the first port of call, I reported to Naval headquarters for duty. I was told, 'Stay where you are. That is where we need you.' So for following orders, I was cheated out of my veteran recognition and benefits. Not only this but for my service to my country, I am insulted by being termed a civilian."
At a Missouri Valley Merchant Marine meeting in Des Moines, we were told there were about 36 in line to be sworn into the Navy. An officer came by and said, "We need three of you to step out of line and join the Merchant Marine." Look how unfair they have been treated since the end of World War II compared to those that stayed in the Navy.
At the time of attack, the Merchant Marine had to supply one or two men to assist the Navy Armed Guard. When the war ended, the Navy Armed Guard walked down the gangway veterans. The Merchant seamen on the same ship were not considered veterans.
If Congress would have followed the law at the end of World War II, I don't think we would have to be here today. I am referring to the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. It states, "The United States shall have a Merchant Marine serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency."
We did our part. Did the government honor their part? No, they did not. I ask you, with the history you know, did we serve as a military or Navy auxiliary in World War II? President Roosevelt thought that we did and asked Congress to do likewise for the men in the Merchant Marine when the G.I. Bill was passed. Our military leaders felt the same way. I will quote our military leaders of World War II. General of the Army, Dwight D. Eisenhower, "When final victory is ours, there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Mariners." Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, "The Merchant Mariners has repeatedly proved its right to be considered an integral part of our fighting team." General A.A. Vandergrift, "The men and ships of the Merchant Marine have participated in every landing operation by the United States Marine Corps from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima. And we know they will be on hand with supplies and equipment when American amphibious forces hit the beaches of Japan itself. We of the Marine Corps salute the men of the Merchant fleet." Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery, "Their contribution was just as important as that of the troops." Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief of the Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, "Because the Navy shares life and death, attack and victory, with the men of the United States Merchant Marine, we are fully aware of their contribution to the victory which must come." General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, "I wish to commend to you the valor of the Merchant seamen participating with us in the liberation of the Philippines. With us, they have shared the heaviest enemy fire. On these islands, I have ordered them off their ships and into foxholes when their ships became untenable targets of attack. At our side, they have suffered in bloodshed and in death. They have contributed tremendously to our success. I hold no branch in higher esteem than the Merchant Mariners Service." The head of the draft, General Hershey said, "Service in the Merchant Mariners was tantamount to the other services."
I am one of those that started sailing after August 15, 1945. And there are those among you who seem to feel that I don't deserve full veterans' status. I say nonsense.
I do not know any of this group that enlisted after August 15, 1945. We all enlisted during a hot shooting war with no knowledge of an atomic bomb that might bring an early end to the war.
When I enlisted, July 13, 1945, at age 17, I was given a service number and issued a dog tag. Who has the power to issue service numbers besides the United States Government during wartime? I think you will agree nobody.
I think you will also agree that if you were issued a service number and a dog tag, you would consider yourself as part of the Armed Forces and expect to be treated and honored as a veteran when the war ended. So why arn't our service numbers honored under training time counted? More shameful treatment.
From the above, you can see that President Roosevelt and all of our military leaders thought we should be included in sharing the victory which we helped win. While the other services were receiving benefits, we have gone over 42 and 52 years receiving nothing.
Passage of this bill would help let people know that our service was appreciated. And was something we earned during World War II. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Young.
[The statement of Mr. Young appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. William Jackson was the Chief Engineer of the Red Oak Victory Ship, a combat veteran of the Merchant Marines. Thank you, sir.
Mr. JACKSON. Yes. My name is William A. Jackson. I am 88 years old and have been working in the Merchant Mariners since 1935. I still volunteer as Chief Engineer of the Red Oak Victory, a 1944 Victory ship to restore it where it was built.
I am here to ask you to pass this bill, H.R. 23, the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant Marine and World War II Veterans Act of 2007."
I shipped out at the early age of 16 as a busboy on a merchant ship, passenger ships and a freighters. During the summer of 1937, I received the Coast Guard, which had just taken over the Merchant Marine, identification card Z-28-28-5. I started out shipping through the Union Hall in New York as a messman. Although I was—my home was on the West Coast, I shipped out of New York, because the National Maritime Union had integrated their shipping hall. None of the West Coast unions had and wouldn't have until the Fair Practice Employment Act of 1960.
Before the United States entered the war, World War II, on December the 7th, I volunteered yeah. I volunteered to sail ships loaded with ammunition, tanks, and cargo headed for the Red Sea. This was before we entered the war. And took it to the canal zone for the British forces. We were—we witnessed two air raids where the enemy was trying to hit a cruiser in dry dock next to where we were loading ammunition. Before the official beginning of war, two Merchant ships were sunk and damaged.
On December the 7th, I was at home in San Francisco when Pearl Harbor was bombed. At first I decided I would contact my classmates at the Oakland High School. We had had a ROTC unit there. And I was the only African-American in that unit. Together we went down to the Army recruiting station. And there was a mixture of all races there, from Mexico, China, Philippines, and Japan.
I noticed that they called all the other guys and assigned them and sent them home. I asked, "Why? What about me?" And this lady said, "I'm sorry. But we don't have a place for African-American soldiers." I felt my heart had stopped to think that our teachers had taught us in school that we had the right to vote. We were loyal. And we were to defend our country in a time of war.
I became very angry and told them, "Don't ever try to draft me." I had just returned from the war zone already in the Merchant Marine. I am going back to get a ship. I was never called by the draft board. But I had seen more action in the North Atlantic and in the Pacific than many of the men in the Army and Navy did.
On December the 9th, I was assigned to the SS Panama and continued to sail. On August 1942, I was—a ship I was on was sunk in the enemy action. I was hospitalized in Trinidad for 4-and-a-half months without pay, because when a Merchant ship went down, your pay stopped. Everybody else was paid. I think people don't realize that.
During the—when I returned in February 1943, I refused to sign on in the steward department. And I had been granted a "wiper's" endorsement for entry rating into the engine room by the U.S. Coast Guard. The National Maritime Union supported my cause. And I was assigned to a position as a wiper on the Exceller, the SS Exceller. I was refused a berth twice by the first engineer. But was finally accepted at the insistence of the U.S. Coast Guard and the N.M.U. Later in June, after 4-and-a-half months of abuse by this first engineer, I earned the time to sit for my next rating of fireman/watertender. I did and passed and continued sailing during the whole war and earning ratings of oiler, junior engineer, third engineer, and second engineer.
In November 1963, I was assigned to the hospital ship Hope as a second engineer. This ship would go to eight different countries and stay 10 to 11 months in each country. I served as a—it served as a hospital ship with 125 beds, teaching local medical personnel modern medical practice. The staff on the ship was 350 and would rotate—and 50 doctors rotated every two months. The ship's total crew was 76 and 26 in my engine room. Our mission was to keep the ship powered and operating as a—as they had three operating rooms, an ICU, two pediatric wards, two men's, two women's wards, and a clinic.
During this time, I earned the promotion to first engineer and then chief engineer. The hardest job I ever loved. Officially I retired in 1985. But returned to serve in Desert Storm for two seven-month tours.
The U.S. Merchant Marine was formed by the War Shipping Administration supplying manpower for the vast number of merchant ships that will be—from all over the world—brought supplies all over the world to our allied forces.
To do this, it took as many as 230,000 seamen to man 5,000 ships that were built. Ships sailed at all ratings for seamen, deck, engine and steward department.
The Merchant Marine was the first to integrate. It may not—it may have taken the union and the Coast Guard to make the companies give me the right to sail in the engine room. But did—but it did integrate the ships in the Merchant Marine. And the Merchant Marine schools integrated in 1942 and 1943. The Merchant Marine was the first to integrate and my dream came true from a messboy to chief engineer.
Today, April 18th, 19—I mean, 2007, I appear before you for this passage of this bill. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Jackson. Thank you for bringing alive the history of the time. I was—how old were you when you served in Desert Storm?
Mr. JACKSON. Pardon me?
The CHAIRMAN. How old were you when you served in Desert Storm?
Mr. JACKSON. Seventy-two.
The CHAIRMAN. Wow.
Mr. JACKSON. I came out of retirement. I was living in Costa Rica.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
[The statement of Mr. Jackson appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Ms. Gloria Flora Nicolich who is an author and a widow of a Merchant Mariner of World War II. Thank you for being here.
Ms. NICOLICH. Honorable members of Congress—
The CHAIRMAN. Could you turn her microphone on?
Ms. NICOLICH. Honorable members of Congress, thank you for allowing me to address you.
I have been the Public Relations Director of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, Incorporated since 1993. I joined to honor my husband’s memory and have dedicated my efforts to gaining recognition, respect, and remembrance for those American Mariners who served from 1941 to 1946.
In 1939—excuse me. In 1939, at age 17, my husband dropped out of high school and joined the Merchant Marine as a messman. In 1939, our Merchant ships were already being torpedoed and seamen were necessary. In 1941, he tried to enlist in the Navy but was rejected because of a rheumatic heart. He was told to attend Pensacola Naval Academy Upgrade School and return to the Merchant Marine.
Upon graduation as first officer, he was immediately transferred to the Army Transportation Corps, where he served on LT's, ocean-going tugs, until war’s end in December 1946.
By 1946, his heart condition had worsened. His education at Upgrade School was not recognized. His disability made a difference—made it difficult for him to find employment. Doubly so, because he was not considered a veteran.
By 1941, many Merchant seamen had already adopted the sea as their life’s work. Many were too old for the draft. Other young men, like my husband, were ashamed of their disability, ashamed to be called 4F. So when given the opportunity to actively serve their country, they chose the dangers of the Merchant Marine rather than the safety of a defense plant.
By the way, as these gentlemen have already said, the Maritime service did not discriminate as to race, religion, nationality, age or health. Those who chose to remain as seamen, knew that they faced almost certain death.
By war’s end, the Maritime service had lost more men percentage wise than any branch of the Service. My colleagues here today, have already discussed, and will discuss further, the sacrifices, privations, and indignities suffered by our Mariners during World War II. And the reasons why they deserve to receive a financial consideration.
My very special concern, however, is that you may consider eliminating widows, particularly those whose husbands died before the passage of this bill. This would be an insult to the memory of the unsung hero and a heinous injustice to the woman who suffered privation along with him. Believe me, not many of us are left.
Firstly, let me say that many of our ancient Mariners either never married, or divorced, or are themselves widowed. It is also safe to say that 99 percent of veterans' wives who became widows during or immediately after the war, either remarried or have died.
The remaining war widows are well over 80, in poor health, and facing a very uncertain future. I know very well, because I am 84.
Those of us who married American seamen after the war, married men with physical disabilities and/or other related injuries. Some married seemingly healthy men who later developed illnesses due to wartime exposure, for example asbestosis.
Case in point, though we knew each other before, I married John Anthony after the war. His heart condition had worsened during his time in service. Once discharged, his
Academy training was not recognized. And he was unable to find a job commensurate with his intellectual abilities. After 14 years of marriage, his physical condition forced him to go on permanent disability. Over a period of 8 years, he suffered two heart attacks, had two open-heart operations, was on dialysis, on special medication, required constant medical care and died in 1978.
Of necessity, I had always worked two jobs. Neither before nor after his death did I receive financial assistance from any source. I buried him privately, took out a loan on our house, paid all the doctor's bills, and supported his aged mother until she died two years later.
John died in 1978. I received his Honorable Discharge posthumously in 1994 from the United States Army. By then, any benefits to which he may have become entitled were for me too little too late.
In 2006, we would have been married over 50 years.
For the most part, we Maritime widows are children of the depression. As single women we struggled. As wives, we did not have the advantage of a husband’s education, or a new home in the suburbs, or medical benefits of any kind. We worked to supplement our husband’s income and to give our children better opportunities.
All of us cared for our husbands in sickness and in health. When they died, we received no help of any kind, because we were not recognized as the widow of a veteran. Our husbands were the forgotten heroes of the greatest generation. We have been their forgotten widows.
Honorable members of Congress, please do not perpetuate this travesty. Please do not count us out. Thank you for your kind consideration. God bless you, and God bless America.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you so much.
[The statement of Ms. Nicolich appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Frank Dooley is the President of the American Merchant Marine Veterans and also a combat veteran of World War II.
Thank you, sir.
Mr. DOOLEY. Thank you member of this Committee for inviting us today to testify on H.R. 23.
By way of background, I served during—in the Merchant Marine during World War II as a member of the crew, joining in 1943. And by 1945, I was in officer's school. And became a Marine engineering officer. By 1946, I was promoted to second assistant engineer.
And then I wanted to go to college. And I didn't even have to go into the Merchant Marine or anything else as far as service goes, because my father died as a result of being gassed in World War I. And I was considered the sole-surviving son of a veteran who had died for this country.
But I chose the Merchant Marine, because it is a family tradition on my mother's side. And I would have been in whether the war occurred or not.
And let me just pause for a moment and address the issue that was—that Congressman Buyer raised before about other groups being entitled to this money or lining up to get at it. The other groups, none of them, are in the World War II Memorial. Not a one of them. And none of those groups had to litigate to get the right to be a citizen—to be a veteran. We did.
We were turned down by the Department of Defense. With all the statistics we had and the services that we performed in World War II, we were turned down and litigated the matter before Judge Oberdorfer in the Federal district court here in Washington, who signed a show cause order directed to the Department of Defense as to why we were not declared veterans. So we became veterans by fighting for it.
The others got it, strangely enough, by not having to fight for it. None of them had to go to court. And none of them had the record we had. Not one of them. The Merchant Mariners was good to me, because I was able to become a—I went to college by working on the docks. But then went back to sea again. And ultimately wound up as chief engineer.
Went to law school, Fordham Law School in New York, became an attorney to the admiral. But I wanted to now address in terms of this background, the status of Merchant Seamen in World War II.
Before World War II, Merchant Seaman had inherent rights, both common law and legislative, to compensation if they were injured in the course of the service of the vessel. They were entitled to maintenance and cure, which means free medical attention and a stipend being paid by the day. And they were entitled to bring a civil action against the owner of the vessel under the Jones Act and the Warranty of Seaworthiness.
If they were killed, the survivor had a claim of action, the widows and orphans had a cause of action under the Death on the High Seas Act. That was before World War II.
When World War II broke out, the United States Government became the owner of every ship, either directly or through "bareboat charter." And the "bareboat charter" meant they simply went to the companies who owned the ships and took them from them. And said we are going to use those for the rest of the war.
Those companies became agents for the United States Government. But more importantly, every seaman after that, became an employee of the United States Government. And the agency that handled this for the United States Government was the United States Maritime Commission through the War Shipping Administration. And the War Shipping Administration controlled every bit of shipping during World War II. And it also controlled, through the Maritime Commission, the establishment of the training programs of Sheepshead Bay, and Kings Point, and the different programs that were created.
And there was a bit of a con job involved in all of this, because the kids that were joining were being told and the people that were joining were being told that they were enlisting. Now who do you know in a civilian capacity enlists in anything? And I have photographs that I could submit to this Committee now showing in New York City, with uniformed people in it, from the Maritime service saying, "If you want action in the North Atlantic, enlist in the United States Maritime service."
It got so bad that by 1944, they were enlisting 16-year-old kids. Getting them to drop out of high school. And enlisting them in the Maritime service. And shipping them out as wipers, ordinary seamen, galley boys. Whatever.
I can submit to this Committee, the names of over 20 of these kids, 16 and 17 year olds, who were killed during the war. I am not talking about falling down someplace. I am talking about killed by enemy action. And they were conned into this by the enlistment. Drop out of high school—by the Maritime Commission.
But it gets worse than that, because if you employ a minor, you have to—the minor has to be subject to a guardian making the decisions regarding that minor. These kids were being signed on board ships under the contract of employment that exists on every ship or before a voyage begins without the consent of a guardian.
And on top of it, the terms of this contract were never really explained to these kids. And I will get to the contract aspect of it now.
When the War Shipping Administration took over these ships, what they created in relationship to the seamen, and the ship, and the training programs, were independent contractors. Every time you did something with the United States Government and whatever division of the United States Government you did it, you became an independent contractor as a seamen.
When you signed into Sheepshead Bay or the Academy, you signed in. And when you graduated, you were discharged by the Maritime Commission. In other words, a pink slip was given to you. And then you went to a ship where you signed articles. And that was a new contract.
For those of you who don't know—and Shep' Articles are a contract. And it goes back historically in merchant shipping, in which the captain representing the owner, signs a contract with the crew for the voyage. And at the end of the voyage, the crew gets a contract. Gets a discharge of contract. And it is—in the United States, that program is governed completely by the United States Government.
In those days, it was an official called the Shipping Commissioner. And I believed he was part of either the Immigration Service or the Coast Guard. But he came down for the official signing of the articles. And at the time of the payoff of the termination of the voyage, he was there again. So this was all done, even in peacetime, under the auspices of the United States Government.
In wartime, it became a little heinous because of these 16-year-old kids being put aboard the ship and not having their daddy standing behind them. I wonder how many daddies would have let those kids know—go there if they knew they were contract workers instead of being enlisted into the Maritime Service.
And so it went. And on top of it, the United States passed a—this Congress passed a statute in 1943 saying that the rights that seamen had are now being obviated against the United States of America, because you are temporary employees. Temporary being the different phases of the employment that I illustrated to you.
And so because of that, you would not be entitled to the Federal Employee's Compensation Act. That effectively cut off seamen from any benefits at all. And what was substituted in its place was what I call the $5,000 solution. The Maritime Administration, the War Shipping Administration, entered into an insurance agreement, if you will, for $5,000 to Merchant seamen during the war.
They covered everything from personal injury to death. And if you were injured in enemy action, the top amount that you could collect at any time of compensation was $5,000.
If you were killed, your widow and orphans got $5,000 and that was that. That was the finish. Remember, I spoke earlier about the right to sue for the widows and orphans in peacetime under the Worthiness of Seaworthiness in the Jones Act. Well, that was taken away. And along with that being taken away, FECA was taken away. So they were hung out there to dry. And they were given a $5,000 solution.
And we have people in our organization who had to ship out, because their fathers were killed. And they had to quit school to support their parents.
Now, I mentioned before that my father had died in World War I, as a result of wounds in World War I. I received a pension until I was 18 years old. My mother was able to put me through a Jesuit prep school with that money. And my sister went to college.
Now, if my father had been unlucky enough to be in the Merchant Mariners in World War I, we would have gotten nothing. And that is exactly what the widows and orphans from World War II of the Merchant Mariners received.
And so what I am saying to you today, if we talk about just compensation, is that there was no compensation in those days. There was nothing. The $5,000 was the end of the line. In fact, even by 1946, the government terminated the $5,000 solution and simply stopped the payments on it.
Incidentally, that program was handled for the Maritime Administration by Chubb and Company. A seaman who was injured, would go to Chubb and Company office at 99 John Street in New York City. And I have correspondence to show this. And be explained by a claim's examiner for Chubb and Company on his war wounds and determine whether he was able to go back to work or not. And if he was not able to go back, he would get the $5,000. And the end of everything. There was no medical treatment for—no medical follow-up treatment, because to continue with the Merchant Mariner medical program at that time, which ended in the 80s, public health service was available to seamen.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Dooley?
Mr. DOOLEY. But not for those types of injuries.
The CHAIRMAN. I hate to cut you off, but could you wrap up?
Mr. DOOLEY. I am blowing off here. And I could go on for a long time. And I didn't intend to. But I am saying now that just compensation is overdue. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, sir.
[The statement of Mr. Dooley appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Gerald Starnes?
Mr. STARNES. Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, My name is H. Gerald Starnes. And I am here today to urge passage of H.R. 23, the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2007."
I am speaking for about 3,000 still living Veteran graduates of the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY, who have joined Mr. Allison and the Just Compensation Committee here in this endeavor to at last gain Congressional recognition for our services in helping win that forgotten great war of 1941 and 1945.
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is the only one of the five Federal academies, service academies, that send their cadets into wartime combat zones. The memorial monument on the campus bears the names of 141 young men who lost their lives in combat.
Now, all of us are very grateful for the superb education we received. And are proud to be graduates of that institution of military discipline and valuable learning. There was a war on. And the largest ship building program in the world that had ever been seen. We—they needed every engineering and deck officer, young officers they could train.
Appointments were relatively easy to obtain for 17 and 18-year old males, no police record, have a high school diploma, in perfect health. And we had to get recommendations from neighbors who had known us all our lives and our high school principal. And you could then get the—go to the academy. We were sworn in as Cadet/Midshipman with the rank of Midshipman in the U.S. Naval Reserve. And when we graduated, we received commissions in the Naval Reserve. Naval Science was one of our major courses and included gunnery. If there was a call on the ship to General Quarters, we had assigned battle stations to serve with the vessel’s Navy Gun.
Unlike all of our armed forces, many of whom have never left a desk stateside, and received the G.I. Bill for four years of college, and all the veteran members of the classes of 1939 through 1947, we did not receive a degree at graduation, because the wartime curriculum did not meet the requirements for college accreditation.
After graduation, we Kings Pointers and all the other Merchant Mariners of World War II were denied veterans' status by every Congress for over four decades and received not a single benefit of any sort.
Until 1977, Merchant seamen were not allowed to apply for veterans' recognition. Following a Federal court ruling in 1986 to recognize Merchant seamen as veterans, like the others, in 1988, we received a U.S. Coast Guard discharge and notification of eligibility for limited medical attention if you were homeless or on Medicaid.
To me and my fellow veteran alumni, these documents were deemed worthless. I had retired from General Electric and had a U.S. Coast Guard—held a U.S. Coast Guard chief engineer’s license since 1952.
I wanted nothing to do with a VA hospital. My dad spent several months during and after the war, World War I, at Walter Reed hospital. And he would only go to our local VA institution on a Sunday afternoon to watch a baseball game.
As an engineer on watch in the engine room of a ship makes decisions on what is wrong or right with the plant’s operation, based on the numbers that his instruments are reading out, his sense of how the equipment should sound, and what his crew is telling him about their observations. However, enemy submarine torpedoes and aircraft attacks were always aimed at the engine room