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Hon. Bob Filner, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

Good Morning:

Honored Guests, Committee Members, and the brave men and women of the Merchant Marine.

This morning, our Committee continues its quest to correct a grave injustice heaped upon the gallant men of the Merchant Marine of World War II.  We are here today to shed some light on the mysteries surrounding the treatment that the Mariners suffered by being denied GI Bill benefits at the end of WWII and to find a way to compensate them, 60 years later, for their heroic deeds.

It is indisputable that the Allied Forces would not have been able to begin, sustain, or win WWII without the valiant service of the Merchant Marine.  The ships they commanded carried troops, tanks, food, airplanes, fuel, locomotives and other critical supplies to every theater of war.  Merchant Mariners participated from the beginning of the war both here and abroad--from the Atlantic coastal waters of the U.S. and England and from Normandy to Okinawa.  In the concluding months of the war, as a part of Operation Magic Carpet, the Merchant Marine ships brought home over 3.5 million men deployed overseas. 

During WWII, Merchant Mariners worked the most dangerous details and suffered the highest casualty rate of any of the other branches of service, with nearly 1 in 26 dying in the line of duty.   A death rate of this magnitude is unimaginable and would not be tolerated in our current wartime endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But the hulking, slow Liberty Ships of the day were little more than sitting ducks for German u-boats and wolf packs.  The government suppressed these dreadful numbers to ensure a steady stream of Merchant Marine volunteers, needed to man the thousands of Liberty Ships built in anticipation of the war effort.  At this time I would like to submit for the record a joint letter of support from four Maritime Organizations wherein it quotes General Dwight Eisenhower, leader of the Allied Forces of WWII who succinctly summed up the contributions of the Merchant Mariners, “When final victory is ours there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.” 

Many of the Merchant Marine detractors claimed these men were draft dodgers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  During WWII, there was active recruitment for men to join the U.S. Maritime Service (USMS) which trained the Merchant Marine.  There were 37 official government recruiting offices set up around the country, with many offices located next to the Navy and Coast Guard offices.  Untold numbers of these men were steered from the uniformed branches to join the Merchant Marine because as they were told by the recruiting officers, that’s where your country needs you.  Also, the Merchant Marine was ahead of its time because it was the only branch of service that did not discriminate based on race and that accepted men as young as age 16.   The short story is that the country needed these men, and these men wanted to serve.  The majority were unaware of the fine distinctions between the Merchant Marine, Navy, Coast Guard or other armed branches in terms of veteran status after wartime.

I believe their confusion was genuine.  Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 to rebuild our nation’s Merchant Marine that had died out after WWI.  Also in 1936, the U.S. Maritime Commission was established to oversee the rebuilding of this fleet.  Along with the U.S. Maritime Service (USMS), the training arm set up in 1938, it grew the number of Merchant Mariners from 55,000 pre-war to over 250,000 men and opened training facilities around the country, including Sheepshead Bay and a full Merchant Marine Academy by 1942. 

Once at war, in 1942, the U.S. War Shipping Administration, as an emergency wartime agency, took control of the purchasing and operation of commercial shipping vessels.  Hence, all Merchant Mariners were under the auspices and control of this Federal Government agency.  The Navy, as author Brian Herbert notes in his book, The Forgotten Heroes, exerted “de facto authority” over the Merchant Marine service when it gained control of the Coast Guard--which in 1942 had become responsible for the inspection of Merchant Marine vessels and for the examination, licensing and certification of Merchant Marine personnel. 

Trying to figure out who controlled the Merchant Marine and who should have made certain that the Merchant Marine of WWII were included as veterans is as futile as a game of “Who’s on First?”  The question is who got lost in this bureaucratic, interagency shuffle?  The answer is the Merchant Mariners who served selflessly despite all of the discord.  I believe today--as I always have--and as Judge Louis Oberdorfer decided in 1988 in the seminal case brought by Stanley Willner and other mariners, (Schumacher, Willner, et al., v. Aldridge, 665 F. Supp. 41 (D.D.C. 1987)) that these men had every reasonable expectation that they would be treated as veterans for their service to our Nation and would be able to partake in any and all benefits that came with that status. 

I want to emphasize that we are not here to establish whether or not these men are veterans.  That was determined finally in 1988. We are here today to try to give them their due in compensation.  Without question, the Merchant Mariners deserve our undying gratitude, not just in words but in deeds.  Yet at the war’s end, they received nothing.  During WWII, if a Mariner died while in combat, his family was eligible to receive $5,000 from the War Shipping Administration.  That’s it.  If he lived or was injured, he and his family received nothing.  No GI bill--no readjustment pay, no unemployment benefits, no educational assistance, no housing or farm loan assistance, no VA hospitals or benefits, no priorities for local, state and federal jobs, not even participation in V-Day celebrations and parades.  Not until 1988, after a hard-fought and ugly legal battle, did these men receive veteran status after 40 years of struggle.  For 125,000 Merchant Mariners, it was already too late. What a travesty of justice!

Why these men were not included in the 1944 GI Bill of Rights remains a mystery.  Was it because their chief champion, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a seaman himself and creator of the Merchant Marine Academy and the U.S. Maritime Commission and Service, died in April 1945?   Were the Merchant Mariners caught up in the crosshairs of the politics of the day, of yellow journalism, of bad publicity, of rumors of strikes and draft dodging, of the anti-union sentiments, of the anti-communism scare, of racism, of competition with the uniformed branches, or was it just that a hybrid militarized organization got the short-end of the stick when veteran status was being decided--disenfranchised without a voice at the proverbial table?  Or, was it the confluence of all of these events?  Will we ever know the real truth?

There are a few naysayers that will claim that the Merchant Mariners simply had dangerous jobs--jobs that would compare to the contractors of today in Iraq, paid by a private firm, paid a much higher rate than the average soldier and willing to assume the risks because of their high level of compensation.  This is simply not true of the Merchant Marine of WWII.  They were not paid more, but comparably and in some instances less, as the chart displayed to my left and attached letter indicate, which I would like to submit for the record.   Exhibit 1.  Moreover, they were only paid when they were working.  When their ship was torpedoed or sunk and they were in shark infested waters in a life boat, they were not being paid.  POW, not paid.  Wounded, not paid.  Stanley Willner of the 1988 legal case, not paid.  I know that a few of the witnesses today will expand on the wage issue, the greatest myth surrounding the Merchant Marine. 

This is why I re-introduced the Belated Thank You to the Merchant Marine of World War II Act of 2007, H.R. 23.  As many of my colleagues know, this bipartisan, bicameral bill will provide $1,000 a month to Merchant Marine veterans and to their surviving spouses to give them the real thanks that is long overdue. 

Would this compensation correct the wrongs of the past? Does it mean that Merchant Mariners did not lose out on the advantages afforded to the other great men and women who served in WWII--namely through the 1944 GI Bill?  NO.  Does it lessen the hurt and betrayal they felt when they were not recognized by their country upon return from combat theaters around the world defending America?  NO.  Does it mean that men like Stanley Willner, who spent three-and-a-half years as a Japanese POW, dropping from 135 to 70 pounds, working endless hours with little subsistence in nightmarish conditions building a railroad over the River Kwai, only to receive two weeks of medical care and little else, will ever be made whole? NO.  This country needs to stop telling these men and their families, NO.  This hearing, I hope, is but the beginning of “yeses” for belated compensation for these deserving souls.

Deserving souls like Stanley Willner, Ian Allison, Henry Van Gemert, Dean Beaumont, Frank Dooley, Dick Wiggins, Eldon Swopes, Bill Jackson, Eugene Barner, Burt Young, Warren Leback, Dennis Roland, George Duffy, Hank Rosen, Dan Horodysky, Marvin Willenburg, Joe Katusa, Joe Chomsky, Gerald Starnes, Mark Gleeson, Fernando Vallas, Bruce Felknor, and Mr. Nicolich--for those still with us today and for those who have crossed the bar.

Lastly, it is well worth noting that in February 2000, our friends to the North, Canada, recognized the service of its Merchant Marine by giving those who served two or more years, lump sum payments mostly in the range of $20,000.  I would like to submit an article for the record that explains how this award was made.  Exhibit 2.

Members of the Committee, we recently learned of the passing of one of the last veterans of World War I.   When we heard the news, each of us felt a collective pride in our hearts for his service to our nation.  That is why the designation of being a veteran is so important.  When people hear the word, they think of the selfless service of men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for their countrymen.  That is what the Merchant Marine did selflessly, and that is why they received the veteran designation in 1988.  That is why they deserve to receive belated compensation for their delayed ascension to veteran status.  

President Washington got it right when he said, ‘The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country.’  We are here today--to begin to right this tremendous wrong and to give the Merchant Marine veterans of WWII their due--in deeds not words.

I would like to now recognize, Mr. Buyer, Ranking Member of the Committee for his opening statement.


Answer to the Supposed Inequity in Pay Between Merchant Seamen and Members of the Armed Forces in Word War II

War Shipping Administration
Training Organization
Washington 25, D.C.

Mr. Arren H. Atherton
National Commander, The American Legion,
National Headquarters, Indianapolis, Ind.

Dear Mr. Atherton,

This will acknowledge receipt of you letter of October 27, 1943, in which you stated the position of the American Legion with regards to inclusion of Merchant Marine Seamen on Legion Honor Rolls. If these community honor rolls are dedicated specifically to, "those serving in the Armed Forces," then of course merchant seamen are not eligible.  If, however, any are dedicated to, "those in the war service," in the service of our country, or "of the United States," then it is believed proper that merchant seamen should be included. We cannot of course agree that service in the Merchant Marine can be, in any way, considered as only equivalent to home guard, civilian defense, etc., since these activities have few casualties directly attributable to enemy action, as has the merchant marine. The casualty lists show that the percentage of casualty in the merchant marine is at least three or four times the percentage for any of the Armed Forces.

We wish further to correct an impression which you have in regard to the pay of men in the merchant marine. We believe it particularly unfair to compare the highest paid merchant seamen to the lowest paid member of the Armed Forces, as is done so often. Particularly, you mention that the gun crew on board merchant vessels draw from $50.00 to $80.00 per month. For your information, all Navy personnel assigned to Navy gun crews are at least seamen first class. The base pay for this rate is $66.00 with a 20 percent sea-pay bonus, bringing this to $79.20, which is the very smallest pay drawn by any member of the Armed Guard range up to Petty Officer second class, the base pay plus allowances for that grade being $115. The above, of course, is minimum and applicable only to single men without dependents. If he is married or has dependents to whom he allots $22 per month from his pay, the Government pays to his dependents further allowances in accordance with the following table.

Wife $50.00
Wife & Child ($20 additional each child) $80.00
Child, no wife ($20 additional child) $42.00
Divorced wife only (not exceeding amount provided by court order) $42.00
 Divorced wife and child ($2 additional each child) $72.00
1 parent (chief support) $50.00
2 parents (chief support) ($11 each additional brother or sister) $68.00
1 parent and 1 brother or sister ($11 each additional brother or sister) $68.00
Brother or sister, no parents ($11 each additional brother or sister) $42.00

It can thus be seen that a married man with no children serving in the Armed Guard will be paid from $157.20 to $193.20 depending on his rating.

This compares with a base pay of $72, which, with 15 percent special emergency raise, is $82.50 for ordinary seamen (who have had at least 3 months in training at $50.00 per month, comparable to the length of training for the seaman first class of the armed guard), plus a bonus ranging from 40 percent to 100 percent.  For able seamen the base pay is $82.50 with a 15 percent special emergency raise, bringing it to $100. The merchant seaman, therefore, gets as his total base pay an amount varying between $115.50 and $200 per month. Overtime pay averages 30 percent of base.  No allowances are granted for dependents. Every man serving aboard a merchant vessel, with the exception of the master or the chief engineer, could earn more money ashore in a shipyard or defense plant without taking the chance of being killed by bombs or torpedoes.

You also mentioned that the Navy gun crew cannot quit their ships. This is, of course, true; but it is also true that in return they are paid for 12 months per year, with 30 days' leave allowed per year, with pay. They are also paid during periods of transfer and stand-by.  The merchant seaman is paid only for such time as he is serving aboard ship and has no leave with pay, except in a few isolated instances. He can, however, take a specified maximum leave between voyages without pay. A merchant seaman's pay starts only after signing on a ship and stops as soon as the ship is paid off in its home port. He is paid an average of 10 months per year, while the Navy man is paid for 12 months per year. From actual pay rolls of ships on various runs, the War Shipping Administration has determined that the average monthly pay for ordinary seamen is $197.50, and for able seamen, $231.25. All this is subject to income tax. This includes wages, voyage bonuses, and overtime. The following table shows a comparison of average gross income received by four men, each with a wife and two minor children. Two are Navy men paid for 12 months, and two are merchant seamen paid for 10 months.

It will be noted that the ordinary seaman and seaman first class compare favorably, as do the petty officer second class and the able seaman.

There are some other major differences on the question of compensation, which are not direct pay but still are definite factors. A merchant seaman who is totally and permanently disabled will be paid benefits at the rate of $200 per month until the disability has ceased or until a total of $5,000 is paid, whichever first occurs. Where the disability has been established so that it will continue to remain permanent, an additional benefit of $100.00 per month is paid to the insured until a total of $2,500 more is paid. Payment then stops, with no further extension of benefits. The cash value of such insurance, which provides for only 75 monthly payments of $100 to one who is totally or permanently disabled, is $6,290.  A member of the Armed Guard who is a petty officer third class median grade for Armed Guard) who is physically incapacitated and medically surveyed will receive a payment of $58.50 per month for so long as he lives. At the age of 25 the cash value of such an annuity is approximately $11,500. It will be noted above that the merchant seaman must be totally and permanently disabled, while the Navy man needs only be physically incapacitated and can supplement his pension by working at a civilian job, which cannot be done by a merchant seaman who is totally and permanently disabled.

To the dependents of a merchant seaman killed goes a flat sum of $5,000. To the dependents of a Navy man killed goes the base pay for 6 months. This, for the petty officer third class would be $468. However, his dependents would be eligible for pensions for the rest of their lives on a varying scale but, roughly, as follows:  Wife $50; first child $20; second and additional children, $10 each.

The wife would draw this pension for life or until she remarried. The children would draw the pension until their eighteenth birthday.

If a man leaves his wife, age 25 (life expectancy, 44.73 years), she would receive if she remained unmarried, $50 per month for 45 years, or a sum of $27,000. Taking remarriages into consideration, the average widow would receive a total of $15,350. If he leaves, in addition, two children, 5 and 3 years of age, they would receive totals of $3,120 and $1,800. The amount of money to purchase an annuity based on the above averages would be $15,300, which could be called insurance.

In addition, the Navy seaman has the privilege of purchasing additional national service life insurance up to an amount of $10,000 for a premium of less than $1 per month per $1,000. This low-priced insurance he may continue to carry even after leaving the service. A merchant seaman is permitted to purchase additional insurance up to the amount of $15,000 for which a premium of $2 per month per $1,000 is charged. However, this insurance is on a month-to-month basis and cannot be continued while the seaman is ashore. The insurance applies only while on a vessel. If a merchant seaman is hit by a truck while ashore, he receives no compensation for being incapacitated even though injuries received make him totally incapacitated. A Navy man's insurance is applicable in such a case.

In addition to all the above very material differences, there are many other benefits accruing to Naval personnel which have a definite monetary value. Some of these are free medical attention for dependents of Navy seamen and the privilege of hospitalization of dependents at a very nominal rate of $3.75 per day for any case. This includes all medical attention, medicine, and other expenses. Confinement cases for wives of petty officers third class and below are free of charge. A Navy man below chief petty officer receives an annual issue of approximately $133 worth of clothing. Every quarter after the first year he receives an allowance of $8.75 for clothing. The merchant seaman pays for his own. The Navy man who elects to make a career of the Navy is also eligible for pension upon his retirement after a specified number of years of service. There is no provision by which merchant seamen can serve any number of years or be eligible for any pension. Free postage, the reduced furlough rates for travel, reductions on theater tickets, and on meals while traveling and other privileges are benefits which in time do total an applicable amount.

We realize that this is a rather lengthy letter, but we also feel sure that in all fairness you will appreciate being advised of the facts. The commonly accepted opinion that merchant seamen are too well paid is thus seen as a myth, and it would be appreciated if the American Legion could help to dispel this myth by advising all its posts of the true facts in the case. The men who serve as merchant seamen are men from the same towns and homes as the men in the Army and Navy. Their services to their Nation are important, and we feel sure you will agree now that the facts are known that they are not overpaid. Many are sons of members of the American Legion, and many are veterans of the last war.  I myself am a member of the American Legion and know that the Legion is interested in fair play and justice.

Your cooperation in dispelling the misconception in regard to merchant seamen's pay will be greatly appreciated.

Very truly yours,

Telfair Knight
Assistant Deputy Administrator for Training


  Navy seaman, first class Navy petty officer second class Ordinary Seaman Able Seaman
Monthly pay (wife and 2 children)  $ 157.20 $ 193.20 $ 197.50 $ 231.25
Yearly pay (12 mos. for Navy, 10 mos., merchant seamen) 1,886.40 2,318.40 1,975.00 2,312.50
Less exclusion of pay for Military Personnel 1,500.00 1,500.00



   Estimated Gross income 386.40 818.40 1,975.00 2,312.50
   Personnel exemption wife and 2 children)
1,900.00 1,900.00 1,900.00 1,900.00
   Estimated surtax net income 



75.00 412.00
Less earned income credit 188.60 231.81 197.50 231.25
   Estimated normal tax net income 0 0 181.25
Victory tax:
    Estimated Victory tax net income
386.40 818.40 1,975.00 2,312.50
    Less exemption 624.00 624.00 624.00 624.00
       Balance subject to tax 00   194.40 1,351.00 1,688.50
    Estimated surtax (13 percent)



9.75 53.63
    Estimated normal tax (6 percent)




    Estimated Victory tax (5 percent)


9.72 67.55 115.62


9.52 77.30 180.22
 Gross income 1,886.40   2,318.40 1,975.00 2,312.00


9.72 77.30 180.22
Income after tax 1,886.40 2,308.68 1,897.70 2,132.28



Canadian flagFebruary 1, 2000:  Minister of Veterans Affairs George Baker announces a $50 million tax-free package for Canada's Merchant Navy Veterans and surviving spouses. Payments will be made to eligible Canadian merchant mariners who served during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. The package will provide between $5,000 and $24,000 to veterans or their spouses.


Canadian Veterans Affairs has a toll-free number for Americans: 1-888-996-2242
Canadians can call toll-free 1-800-228-7441 or the TDD for the hearing impaired at 1-877-713-7640.
Refer to the Veterans Affairs Canada Web site for information including an application form.

Canadian Merchant Navy vets win $50M compensation
London Free Press Reporter,
Wednesday, February 2, 2000

It's about time. That's how Londoner Harvey Hollingsworth reacted yesterday after the federal government announced a $50-million compensation package for veterans of Canada's merchant navy.

The package comes a year after Harvey and his colleagues were declared full-fledged war veterans.

It's been a 55-year battle for recognition by ex-merchant mariners like Harvey, who worked on the decks of a tanker and two cargo ships ferrying military supplies to Britain in the winter of 1945.

"It took me more than 50 years just to get my Canadian Voluntary Service medal (CSVN)," said the 71-year-old retired father of two, who joined the merchant navy when he was 16.

"We did a very good job. I've lost a lot of friends and the characters I knew."

Some merchant mariners staged a hunger strike on Parliament Hill last year to demand compensation.

Mariners entered talks seeking flat payments of $20,000 for each veteran and widow with an extra $20,000 for former prisoners of war. Of the $50-million, Ottawa set aside lump-sum payments of up to $24,000 in lieu of benefits sailors did not receive before 1992.

About 7,300 merchant navy veterans and surviving spouses will be eligible for the tax-free compensation -- to be awarded in two installments based on service aboard cargo ships.

How the money breaks down:

  • $20,000 for war-related service of more than two years.
  • $10,000 for war-related service of six months to two years.
  • $5,000 for war-related service of between one and six months, or for less than one month if captured, killed or disabled.
  • An extra 20 per cent for any prisoner of war.

Canada's merchant mariners, many too young or old to serve in the military, kept Europe supplied during the Second World War. Nearly 1,500 died in the Battle of the Atlantic, a higher casualty rate than in any armed service.

Those eligible for the payout include a large number of Newfoundlanders who served in the British merchant marine before Newfoundland joined Canada.

There are 48 Korean War veterans or their widows also eligible.

But after the war, Hollingsworth was left to fend for himself. "I couldn't go to school (after the war) because they didn't give us any money," he said.

Veterans Affairs Minister George Baker called yesterday's announcement "an historic occasion" for the seamen and Canada. Ottawa is the first wartime Allied government to compensate civilian sailors for war service.

After the war, Hollingsworth sailed the world until he joined the Canadian Armed Forces as an infantryman in the early 1950s. He served in Korea and on several peacekeeping tours until he retired in 1978.

While shocked by yesterday's announcement, Hollingsworth already plans to spend his money on a "14-foot, 10-horsepower fishing boat" for a summer trailer he shares with his wife, Barbara, at Young's Point near Peterborough.

"I'm happy about that," he said laughing. "I don't have to touch the savings."