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J. Don Horton

J. Don Horton

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to submit testimony in support of H. R. 1288, and the forgotten services of some 10 to 30 thousand members of the Merchant Marine who sailed on coastwise barges and tugs during World War II.  Most have gone unrecognized for their gallant service in defense of this country when all were needed to support our troops overseas and keep the enemy from our doors.  H. R. 1288 would finally correct the travesty of not recognizing the service of these individuals and give the few remaining men and women a shot at gaining recognition as veterans.
The United States Merchant Marine has been largely viewed by the general population as large ships sailing across oceans and seas carrying exotic cargo from one country to another.  Little information to what actually takes place within the service is known or understood by the public.  Most citizens have little knowledge that our Merchant Marine was established before our United States Navy or Coast Guard, and many do not know that during our nation’s wars our Merchant Marine is looked upon as the Fourth Arm of Defense.

As you know, the United States’ effort to fight and win the greatest war in history was comprised of a coalition of civilians and servicemembers from the greatest generation this nation has ever known.  There were three major components in that coalition, our fighting forces overseas, the civilian production machine here at home and, the United States Merchant Marine that served as the link.

Our Merchant Marine has proven itself time and again in every war we have encountered. History has consistently noted the brave seamen who crossed oceans carrying our troops and war materials in every war, and who often encountered enemy actions that sent many of those brave souls to the bottom of the seas. Stories have been written about their heroic efforts to keep our shipping lanes open even while losing ships enemy hostilities here on our own shores during World War II.  At times, during World War II, we were losing our ships faster than they could be built. The commanders of the German U-boats considered the waters off the east coast to be a shooting gallery because of our lack of security and adherence to keeping our shoreline dark. The bright lights from the various amusement parks and residential areas along the coastal beaches provided the perfect backdrop for German U-boats to pick our ships off at will.

We fought World War II on a global scale, with major fighting on three fronts.  Logistics for this war in terms of supplies reached a scale never since matched.  The supply lines to our front lines stretched across both oceans.  They were very vulnerable, especially at the very start of the war.  Our nation was caught off guard by the magnitude of the logistical effort required to maintain our front lines.  Every effort was made to keep our troops adequately supplied by working around the clock in our defense plants.  Every able bodied person, rather it be man, woman or child stood up to do their part.  This nation came together like no other time to produce the supplies required to keep that war effort moving forward.  This effort has not been matched since, and probably will never be again.

The task of transporting our troops and the majority of materials overseas fell to our Merchant Marine.  The United States had a very small inventory of ships that could carry our troops and supplies, and the German U-Boats were sinking them faster than we could build new ones.  Enemy submarine successes threatened the outcome of the war in the first few years.  In fact, the loss of shipping along our coastline during the first part of the war was so great that our own government had to step in and instruct our news outlets not to give out the number of ships lost.  There was fear that our seamen would refrain from shipping out, thereby creating critical manpower shortages.  This would have caused shipping delays and quite possibly could have placed our chances of winning the war in jeopardy.  Had it not been for the gallant efforts of merchant seamen manning vessels against threatening odds, the war could have ended much differently.  

The great loss of ships caused our nation to call upon another group of vessels that had generally been placed out of service. Our country had some 250-300 old wooden hulled barges that were rarely used. Most had long passed their effective life span. Some were built around the middle of the nineteenth century and their condition was poor. Many barges began their life as sail schooners in the mid-1800s. There was a short-lived belief that sails would help propel these barges and give the tugboats towing them a little help.  By the turn-of-the-century most had their masts removed and extra hatches added to the hulls to carry more cargo.

There were some seventy companies that did business in the coastal trades, and about 700 barges or schooners were recorded as actively participating. Records indicate the first wooden hulled barge was built around 1856 and maybe the last around 1923. They ranged in sizes in tonnage from 600 to 2400 tons.  During World War II there may have been a little more than a few hundred barges remaining to carry out this tradition.

After the turn of the 20th century, companies began to send the barges out into larger bodies of waters.  Soon the coastwise trade for barges was where the money was for companies.  A tow of three barges could carry more payload of, say coal, than several locomotives could carrying 300 coal cars or 600 trucks carrying the same payload and at a fraction of the cost.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, it became apparent that we needed every possible source of commerce to keep our supplies lines open.  These barges were quickly called back into service even in their very old and primitive conditions.  It was not uncommon to see ten or twenty tugs and their barges moving cargo up and down the coast on any given day.  As demand for commerce grew the barges began playing a larger role in the defense of our country.  After all, no other mode of transportation could offer the benefits at lesser costs. They were by far the most economical means to move product around the country.

The German U-boats sank our ships faster than we could build them.  Larger and faster ships were needed to keep our shipping lanes open and to keep our troops overseas supplied with badly needed materials. Here at home, every available means of moving war materials to our defense plants became a necessity, regardless of the risk.

These barges kept alive a tradition dating back before the birth of this nation.  Our forefathers brought this lifestyle with them when they landed here to establish this country.  Families were traditional on some of the barges.  This emanated from the river barges that traveled the major tributaries of our nation for as long as this nation has existed.  Our major source of commerce came by river throughout our country. Often the crew that manned some of these barges during the summer school breaks was comprised solely by families.  Companies who owned these barges looked favorably on those that were manned by families.  It was believed families would remain on board more so than single seamen mainly because of the primitive living conditions generally found on most barges.  Families tend to adapt more easily.

Barge seamen endured a life that was extremely primitive as most barges were without the average necessities found ashore. There was no electricity, running water or the usual bathroom conveniences.  Heat came from a simple coal stove that was used for cooking as well. Light from kerosene lamps was the norm. This life was hard and it left its mark on you. With the ever present German U-boats, young seamen matured fast. This was a far cry from a young man’s dream of sailing the 7 seas.

These coastwise barge seamen were a small, dedicated and mostly unknown group who served in the US Merchant Marine. They made little news but played a very important role during World War II.  They moved bulk cargo and war supplies to the various defense factories and power plants along the East Coast. Minimal news or entries in history were made as most gave little attention to them. They were considered by many as insignificant. Historians wrote limited information and they would only make news if something disastrous happened. Storms would cause sufficient damage and some would make the news if fatalities occurred. History passed them by and carried their records along with it.

Since the younger and more able-bodied seamen preferred the large more modern ships, barges were more or less left to others less traditional crews.  Some elderly seamen came back to the sea and brought their families to serve as members of the crew. This brought forth a resurge in the traditional use of barge families.  Many women who were refused opportunities to work on the larger vessels came aboard the barges as crew as well.  Some of the seamen that came to work on the barges were without the credentials now required to prove service on these vessels.  They worked alongside those with credentials and were paid the same wages with the same taxes withheld.  They performed the same work and were exposed to the same threats as the certified seamen were.  Yet, today, many of the seamen that operated tugs and barges cannot prove their service because they do not have the proper documents that others were provided.  Many were directly denied documents because of their age, gender or disability.  Today we call this discrimination.

Many seamen were considerably older than the required draft age and often disabled.  Many were missing a leg, arm or an eye. School age children manned the crew positions as well as any other seamen. They proved their mettle. These barges carried the bulk raw war materials to the ports that fed the defense plants that built war supplies and equipment for our troops overseas. The use of these barges freed our larger merchant fleet to concentrate on the vital necessity of transporting supplies and equipment to our troops on the front lines. This was not a small task.

At the start of the war, women tried repeatedly to join the US Merchant Marine. They were thwarted by the War Shipping Administrator (WSA), Admiral Emory S. Land who declared that there was no place in the Merchant Marine for women.  By this order from the WSA, the US Coast Guard refused to document women who served. Women served anyway and performed every duty asked of them, without any formal recognition their work.   They served on barges and other vessels, mostly as cooks and messmen.  They were paid salaries and Social Security taxes were taken from their wages.  They performed the same services as those with proper credentials on the same vessels and did it well.  They deserve to be recognized for their service to our country.

Efforts to gain status as seamen by the women were met with stern denials from the Captains of the Port (COTP) stationed at the various coastal ports.  I was present in June of 1942, when the COTP of New York denied my mother and sister their official documentation as seamen.  Instead he issued an official US Coast Guard Identification Card to my mother and told her my sister did not need one as she was below the age of 16.  Children could move about freely through the security checkpoints on the docks if accompanied by a parent.  He stated by order of the WSA, he was directed to deny official seaman’s papers to women upon application.

Thousands of other women were denied official documentation for service in the Merchant Marine.  To this day, there has been no way for these women to gain their due recognition as seamen of the United States Merchant Marine and thus gain veterans status of this nation.  A letter from the US Coast Guard (attached) dated 09 Apr, 2010, states, “The US Government did not issue mariner credentials to females during World War II.”

Recent research of 29 barges and tugs brought forth over 1100 seamen who served between 1942 and 1943.  From that group there were 87 seamen with traditionally female names who served aboard those vessels.  That transmits to a ratio of almost 9 percent of the work-force being women, if one could use this finding to be an approximate ratio of seamen who served on coastwise vessels.  In today’s military service, where women are recognized for their service, the ration is placed at 14%.  This finding provides an astounding proportion of women serving during World War II in the Merchant Marine that have never been officially recognized as seamen and veterans.  This is wrong and it needs to be corrected.  Passing H. R. 1288 would remedy this shameful situation.

Other research has brought forth two other actions that have inhibited seamen who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II from seeking recognition as veterans.  The Commandant of the US Coast Guard’s order of 20 Mar 1944 relieved the masters of tugs and seagoing barges of the responsibility of issuing shipping and discharge papers to seamen.  Then, the US Maritime Administration issued orders to destroy ship’s deck and engine logbooks in the 1970s. A US Coast Guard Reference Information Paper #77 dated April, 1990 refers to these actions.

World War II brought about the advent of women in the military and they proved themselves. They earned some of our country’s highest honors for their service. However, the women who served in the US Merchant Marine in World War II were denied their Official Mariner’s credentials and have never been able to achieve what they most gallantly earned, veteran status. Those of us who hold this status perceive it as one of our most honored possessions.

On 21 March, 2013, US Representatives G. K. Butterfield, Walter Jones, Mike McIntyre & Mark Meadows of North Carolina and 37 other Representatives introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that may help these coastwise seamen and women gain what has been denied them for more than 67 Years.  H.R. 1288, the World War II Merchant Mariner Service Act would direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to allow other forms of documentation to prove service in the World War II Merchant Marine. Official Records have either been withheld, destroyed, or denied, thus preventing somewhere between 10,000 to 30,000 coastwise merchant seamen from gaining their rightful place as veterans of our country.

I offer the following items in support of H. R. 1288, and to demonstrate the need for this legislation:

Findings 1:   The US Merchant Marine Seamen of WW II gained veteran status under a court ruling via Schmacher, Willner, et al, V. Secretary of the Air Force Edward C. Aldridge, Jr 665 F Supp 41 (D.D.C 1987) providing they meet certain eligibility requirements.
Findings 2:  USCG Information Sheet #77 (April 1992) identifies acceptable forms of documentation for eligibility meeting the requirements pursuant to Schmacher V. Aldridge, 655 41(D.D.C 1987)
a.     Certificate of Discharge (Form 718A)
b.    Continuous Discharge Books (ship’s deck/engine logbooks)
c.    Company letters showing vessel names and dates of voyages

Findings 3: Some 10,000 to 30,000 coastwise seagoing tug and barge merchant seamen have been or may be denied recognition upon application because actions taken by government agencies (prior to P. L. 95-202) have removed required eligibility records from being available to the veteran.
Findings 4:  Commandant USCG Order of 20 March, 1944 relieves masters of tugs, towboats and seagoing barges of the responsibility of submitting reports of seamen shipped or discharged on forms 718A.  This action removes item (a) from the eligibility list in Findings 2.
Findings 5:  USCG Information Sheet # 77 (April, 1992) further states “Deck logs were traditionally considered to be the property of the owners of the ships.  After World War II, however, the deck and engine logbooks of vessels operated by the War Shipping Administration were turned over to that agency by the ship owners, and were destroyed during the 1970s”. This action effectively eliminates item (b) from the eligibility list in Findings 2.
Findings 6:  Company letters showing vessel names and dates of voyages are highly suspect of ever existing due to the strict orders prohibiting even the discussion of ship/troop movement.  Then consider item (c) of Findings 2 should be removed from the eligibility list. USCG Info Sheet # 77, page 2 refers
Findings 7:  Commandant, USCG Ltr 5739 of 09 Apr 2010 states, “The US Government did not issue mariner credentials to females during the World War II.” And “The NMC now processes requests for DD 214s as a part of their normal business practices.  This removes cost to prepare documents for veteran leaving no costs required.
Findings 8:   CBO preliminary cost report of 10 June, 2013: “The costs associated with the attached bill language have an insignificant effect on direct spending over the 2014 to 2023 period”.  They are considered De Minimis.
Findings 9:  Excerpts from Pres. Roosevelt’s fireside Chat 23: On the Home Front (Oct. 12, 1942): “In order to keep stepping up our production, we have had to add millions of workers to the total labor force of the Nation. In order to do this, we shall be compelled to use older men, and handicapped people, and more women, and even grown boys and girls, wherever possible and reasonable, to replace men of military age and fitness; to use their summer vacations, to work somewhere in the war industries.”
Findings 10:   After the Revolutionary War many Acts of Congress were enacted to provide pensions to those veterans applying for support. Thousands of servicemen were without documented service and remained without any viable means to prove service.  Excerpts from documents retained at the NARA provide: Generally the process required an applicant to appear before a court of record in the State of his or her residence to describe under oath the service for which a pension was claimed. This sets precedence for using certified oaths in conjunction with the Social Security documents as alternative documentation.
Findings 11: The USCG cannot provide a true estimate of Merchant Mariners serving in World War II. GAO/HEHS-97-196R refers. Estimates range from 250,000 to 410,000 from recognized historians. None of these historians were aware of these 10,000 to 30,000 coastwise merchant seamen where many served without proper credentials and did not include them in their above estimates... Some were elderly handicapped; others women and some were school children who served in a billet, drew wages and paid taxes.  They served on the same vessels in the same hostile war zones and performed the same services alongside others who were documented.  Yet, only about 90,000 merchant mariners have been recognized as veterans with just 1192 of these veterans are in receipt of compensation or pension benefits.  This is a vast disparity in ratio of the other service branches.
Findings 12:   DOD and NARA Agreement N1-330-04-1 of Jul, 08, 2004 puts in place a procedure to transfer military personnel files of individuals from all services, (including civilian personnel or contractual groups who were later accorder military status under the provisions of Public Law 95-202). This agreement affects military personnel records of individuals 62 years after separation from service. Action has taken place for all except the US Merchant Marine IAW P.L 95-202.  This inaction by the Department of Homeland Security via (COMDT USCG) has caused many of the mariners to have gone unrecognized for their services. Many have passed without ever gaining recognition or benefits and soon all will be History. Only about 90,000 out of 250,000 have ever received recognition as veterans with many unable to gain access because of age and health condition requiring assistance for others outside family.  Had compliance taken place, these records would be available to all and providing the mariner a chance to being recognized many years ago and enjoying the benefits awarded to them via public law.
Whereas:  (1)   by court order, Schumacher v. Aldridge 665 F Supp 41 (D.D.C.  1987) provided for veteran status to certain US Merchant Marine seamen during WW II (07 December, 1941 to 31 December, 1946) with the same benefits accorded all veterans as administrated by the VA.
Whereas: (2)  President Roosevelt’s speech of 12 Oct, 1942 puts in place the use of elderly and handicapped individuals, school children and women in an effort to support war efforts by replacing men of military age and fitness, and in stepping up our production of war materials for those on the front lines.
Whereas: (3)  DOD & NARA Agreement N1-330-04-1 of July 08, 2004 provides for the transfer of military records to the National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO for use as archival records, open to the public. But no action has taken place by the DHS for the mariner in almost 9 years causing the veteran loss of due access of his records that may accord him recognition as a veteran.
Whereas: (4) HR 1288 provides for alternative records to be used in place of records lost, destroyed or denied for coastwise seamen affected and allow women and school children be recognized for their  services rendered for the first time ever.
Whereas: (5) Costs for HR 1288 is considered De Minimis via Findings 8 removing cost as a consideration.
Together we can make a difference as these brave seamen did for us during WW II.  They stood up for us and in doing so they kept this country free.  The very least we can do is repay them with the recognition they have most graciously deserve.  Let’s stand up for them and make it possible for them to gain their rightful position as veterans. Will you help make it happen?
The reason I am interested in gaining recognition for the men and women who manned the barges during WWII is that I was one of them and I know we are deserving and have been overlooked after giving so much for the war effort and Freedom. The tugboat Menomonee was sunk off the coast of Virginia on 31 Mar., 1942 at 37’ 34” N, 75” 25” by the German U-boat 754, with the loss of my brother, William Lee Horton, Jr. at the age of 17, while serving his country.
Below is a summary of my family’s approximate time is service during WW II.  Many families had as much service as we did but I have been unable to document them to the extent of my own family from firsthand experience:

William Lee Horton Family

Name            Date of Birth       Death Date         Seaman Z No        Position Held    
William Lee Horton      12/06/1894       02/17/70         Z 187260                      Master
Sadie Owney Horton      11/25/1899       12/08/98         429571// 031*                 Cook
William Lee Horton, Jr      11/17/1924       03/31/42         Z 245 185                     Able Seaman
Jack Oswald Horton      01/19/1929                 Z 474 431                     Master    
James Donnell Horton      03/03/1932                 Z 474 532                     Able Seaman                          
Doris Jean Horton             01/28/1927          03/06/94            Not Available                         Messman
•    Sadie Owney Horton was denied seaman papers in New York City, NY by the Maritime Commission Office when she filed for seaman’s papers in 1942.  They informed her that they were not accepting women in the Merchant Marines at that time.  This was their policy. They issued her a formal USCG identification, depicted above, and were directed to use that for work.

Calculations:  Average Days at Sea per trip
 Roundtrip: 10 to 14 days     Single trip: 3 to 5 days        Per Month: 5 single or 2.5 round trips
                      Months     Years      Round               Single          Days        Years
Name                      Service     Service       Trips                 Trips         at Sea       at Sea
William Lee Horton         61     5.1         153                306             918 to 1515                   2.51 to 4.15
Sadie Owney Horton        36     3.0           90                180       540 to 900                   1.48 to 2.47
William Lee Horton, Jr        04     0.4           13                  26         78 to 130                   0.21 to 0.36
Jack Oswald, Horton        32     2.7               80                 160       480 to 800                   1.32 to 2.19
James D. Horton        18     1.5           45           90         270 to 450                    0.74 to 1.23
Doris Jean Horton                       03          0.33            12               24                60 to 80                      0.20 to 0.22
Collective TOTALS    :            153         12.93          393                 786     2346 to 3805    6.46 to 10.66

Note: Trips usually originated in Hampton Roads, VA loading a cargo of war materials, (ore, scrap metals, sugar, salt, lumber, coal, etc.).  Destination of these barges pointed north.  Ports visited, to off load the cargo, were many with the nearest to Hampton Roads, VA being Philadelphia, PA and reaching as far north as Nova Scotia.  These ports included Detroit, MI; Stamford, CT; Bridgeport, CT; Hartford, CT; New Haven, CT; New London, CT; Providence, RI; New Bedford, MA; Fall River MA; Boston, MA, Portland, ME; Halifax, Nova Scotia and others.     There were 786 trips made that should have resulted in 786 discharges.
Consider:  Days at sea were days spent in the presence and fear of enemy submarines continuously.  Waters off the US East Coast were a war zone 24/7 and merchant ships were constantly being attacked by German submarine Wolf packs.  These tows moved at a pace of 2 to 6 knots and were sitting ducks for the taking.  Threat of being attacked by the enemy submarines was constant.   Captain W. L.  Horton spent the equivalent of 3 years on these treacherous sub infested waters. Sadie Owney Horton spent about 2 years.  The siblings together spent about 2.7 years in this Atlantic host also.  This was a significant courageous wartime undertaking for any family and recognition for their magnificent and heroic services and the sacrifices they made for our country should be noted.  Collectively, the Horton family spent 12.9 years in US Merchant Marine during WWII with over 8 years traveling those waters heavily infested with those hostile German submarine wolf packs that spread havoc on the US Merchant vessels.  There were few military units that endured more than this length of time in any war zone, ever.

Name    Year Worked    Gross Tons    Year Built    Hull Number    
TUCKAHOE    1940    1267    1913    165394        CHES. CITY, MD
TENNESSEE    1941    1327    1918    167417        CHES. CITY, MD
COHASSETT    1941-2    21229    1893    27655        CLEVELAND, OH
CHELSEA    1942-3    1327    1919    218878    KELLLEY , SPEAR, CO    
PORTLAND    1943-4    2129    1919    167794    MISSOURI VALLEY BRIDGE & IRON    QUANTICO, VA
CULLEN #17    1945    1371    1917            
MARYLAND    1945    1371    1917    214687    AMERICAN CAR & FOUNDRY Co.    SOUTH PORTLAND, ME
DELAWARE    1946    1371    1916    166194    AMERICAN CAR & FOUNDER CO.    SOUTH PORTLAND, ME
BALTIMORE    1947    1371    1916    214479    GILDERSLEEVE SHIP    GILDERSLEVE, CT
PROVIDENCE    1948    1371    1917    215749    AMERICAN CAR & FOUNDRY COM    SOUTH PORTLAND, ME

Additional Barges one or more of the Horton family served on before, during and after WWII
Name            G/Tons    Built       Number        Company
Allegany        2298        1921       167100        P. Daugherty Co.
Frederick        2301        1921       166621        P. Daugherty Co.
Montauk        1371        1915        21374        P. Daugherty Co.
Charles J. Hooper    2217        1922       222439        Eastern Transp. Co.
Bango            2129        1919       167793        Southern Transp. Co.
Chester        1327        1919       164514        Southern Transp. Co
Cohasset        2129        1922        27655        Eastern Transp. Co.
Monokin        1287        1919       219409        Southern Transp. Co.
Orinoco        1287        1919       165033        Southern Transp. Co.

PORTS VISITED   WWII Timeframe between Dec 07, 1941 to Dec 31, 1946
Baltimore, MD        Bangor, ME        Boston, MA        Fall River, MA
Hoboken, NJ        New Bedford, MA    New Haven, CT        New York, NY
Norfolk, VA        Palisades, NY        Perth Amboy, NJ                  Philadelphia, PA    
Portsmouth, NH                  Providence, RI        Stamford, CT                  Williamston, NC


PHOTO: (1)) “Don Horton, age 12, 1944” (2) Mom & Dad, circa 1943 (3) Mom on “Cohasset” 1942

HR 1288 could help some gain recognition as a veteran.  This legislation can correct a travesty that has gone unnoticed or ignored for such a long time. Costs associated with this bill have been deemed to have an insignificant impact on direct spending by the CBO so cost should not be an issue.  This bill stands alone in helping these coastwise merchant seamen gain recognition that they have been deprived of due to records being withheld, destroyed, or denied.  This needs to be corrected and soon. These seamen are leaving us at an alarming rate. If not now it will all be for history. We need to stand up and do what is right for these seamen. We must do what is right and support this bill.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to provide you some history and reasoning as to why H. R. 1288 is needed.  I hope you now understand what this small group did to assist this nation when all were needed to keep us free from the enemy during a very bleak time for our country.  They did what was right for our country and now we need to do what is right for these seamen.

Very Respectfully,
J. Don Horton
J. Don Horton, Veteran
WW II & Korean War
US Merchant Marine & USCG