Mr. Warren G. Leback
The Honorable Bob Filner
House Veterans Affairs Committee
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
My name is Captain Warren G. Leback and I am pleased to submit this brief in support of HR 23 Merchant Mariners.
I am a Merchant Marine Combat Veteran of World War II and a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, NY. I joined the Liberty Ship “Joseph McKenna” in June 1942 as a Cadet Midshipman. During my time in her we participated in the support of Guadalcanal and Palau in the Caroline Islands. I was awarded a Merchant Marine Combat Medal for services at Guadalcanal. I continued my war service through November 1945 when as Chief Mate of Grace Line’s “Santa Ana” the ship was returned by the War Shipping Administration to Grace Line, it’s owners. I continued to sail including Master until I joined Grace Line management. I have held senior management positions in Grace Line, Central Gulf Lines, SeaLand Service, El Paso LNG Company and most recently as President, First American Bulk Carrier Corporation completing 65 years in the Maritime Industry. I served as Deputy Maritime Administrator under President Reagan and Maritime Administrator under President George H.W. Bush. I hold United States Coast Guard Merchant Marine Master’s License Any Ocean Any Tonnage 13th Issue having earned my first Master’s License in 1947.
I wish to offer my support of HR 23 Merchant Mariners which will provide a monthly pension for the surviving U.S. Merchant Mariners who served in the Merchant Marine from 1940 through 1945. I wish to point out the Merchant Mariners of World War II were not Draft Dodgers as so often been characterized. When I joined the “Joseph McKenna” the Master was 72 and Chief Engineer was also 72. They had come out of retirement and sailed during the early war years until the training program produced their replacements. I was 18 and only an Ordinary Seaman at 16 was younger.
The Merchant Mariners of World War II served their country with loyalty and dedication. Records show that if their vessels were sunk and they survived, they shipped out on the next available vessel knowing full well they may be attacked and sunk again. It has been estimated that over 225,000 civilian merchant seamen manned the 5,000 ships saw war service and survived.
We lost 624 ships and 6,845 seamen during World War II. The United States Merchant Marine Academy lost 142 Cadet Midshipmen due to enemy action.
I wish to point out that when you paid off your ship, your wages ceased until you signed on another ship. No vacation time was accrued or paid. The World War II seaman had no pension benefits. It was however customary to pay the Masters and Chief Engineers a small pension on retirement if they had been long term employees of the company.
Why pay the surviving World War II Merchant Mariner a pension at this time in his life? Consider the fact that the average age of those seamen who served from 1940 through 1945 is between 79 and 87. Certainly the pension as proposed in HR 23 Merchant Mariners would add to his quality of life.
HR 23 Merchant Mariners has a cut off date as to who is eligible. It does not apply to service in subsequent wars. The industry has provided those Merchant Mariners coming into the industry commencing with the Korean War with pensions and benefits which provide for an acceptable quality of life upon retirement. The World War II Merchant Mariner war service was excluded from these benefits.
What HR 23 Merchant Mariners will do is to provide a final recognition for those surviving World War II Merchant Mariners who with ruddy cheeks, dark locks and determined hearts sailed into harms way carrying war supplies and materials and more importantly our country’s flag more than sixty (60) years ago.
Gentlemen, your Committee can do no less than to vote HR 23 Merchant Mariners out and on to the House floor for a positive vote.
Thank you. I remain.
Captain Warren G. Leback
World War II Merchant Mariner Combat Veteran
April 13, 2007
I was privileged to serve the government on two (2) occasions.
I was appointed Deputy Maritime Administrator, Maritime Administration, Department of Transportation by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 serving through January 1985.
During my service as Deputy Maritime Administrator, the Administrator Admiral Harold Shear USN (Ret.) delegated the responsibilities of overseeing the inland waterways, ports and terminals, plus because of my background the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) American flag operators and their vessels.
I worked closely with maritime labor including a roll back of wages and benefits to assist in making the American flag more competitive.
I was delegated to oversee the workout of several Title XI contracts which we negotiated a re-issue of the contracts at lower interest rates thus strengthening the companies and reducing the risk to the government. As an aside we could today use the format which we developed in 1984 covering Title XI as the basis for the Title XI program proposals today, i.e. provide flexibility to the government and owner to take advantage of interest rate fluctuation during the term of the bonds thus reducing the risk to the government.
I was appointed Maritime Administrator, Maritime Administration Department of Transportation by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 serving through January 1993.
I headed the Maritime Delegations to renegotiate our Maritime Agreement with the Soviet Union, Peoples Republic of China, Ukraine, South Korea, Brazil and Japan. These negotiations laid the foundations to open China, South Korea and the Soviet Union to allowing U.S. flag operators equal rights intermodally with those of the country involved. This also applied to port operations. These negotiations laid the foundation for opening up particularly China and South Korea to American business.
I oversaw the Ready Reserve Force controlled by MARAD and its deployment in the Gulf War. The force experienced delays in activation which was due to lack of funding operational plans, reserve of qualified crew members. This was corrected for future deployment. Annual funding was established, core maintenance crews employed. Maintenance procedures established and periodic testing of the system.
Instituted a scrapping program covering the National Defense Reserve Fleet composed mainly of World War II and 1960 built obsolete vessels. The program was put on hold in 1993 because of environmental concerns.
Directed the write off of those accounts payable held by MARAD but deemed non-collectible by reason of the companies involved were no longer in business. Disposed of Title XI held vessels which were deemed non-competitive or would impact the industry if sold at unrealistic low prices.
The highlights of both tours were to strengthen the industry and reduce risks to the government.
Captain Warren G. Leback