Truth About Salaries, the Draft, Unloading Ships, and Court Martials

Comparison of Income After Taxes-- Navy vs Merchant Marine

Navy personnel were exempt from income taxes, while merchant mariners paid income taxes and "Victory" taxes. Every man serving aboard a merchant vessel, with the possible exception of the master and chief engineer, could earn more money ashore in a shipyard or defense plant without taking the chance of being killed by bombs or torpedoes.

The following study was done in 1943 by the War Shipping Administration based on actual payrolls in answer to a letter from the American Legion.

"Mr. Arren H. Atherton, National Commander of the American Legion,
'Your cooperation in dispelling the misconception in regard to merchant seaman's pay will be greatly appreciated.'
Admiral Telfair Knight"

 Annual income after taxes (1943)



 Seaman first class vs. Ordinary seaman    $1,886  $1,897
 Petty officer second class vs. Able seaman



 Permanent disability, merchant seaman, value
 Partial disability, Navy personnel, cash value
 Death benefit, merchant seaman
 Death benefit, Navy petty officer third class
 Cash value, merchant seaman widow's pension
 Cash value, Navy widow's pension

Army-Navy Pay Tops Most Civilians'
Unmarried Private's Income Equivalent to $3,600 Salary

Comparison of net income of military and civilian workers taking into account, taxes, housing allowances, and other benefits received by military.

Barron's National Business and Financial Weekly, April 24, 1944


GI Bill
The 1944 GI Bill gave members of the "Armed Forces" who served at least 90 days anywhere between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 31, 1946 major benefits for education, home loans, and job preferences.

As he signed the GI Bill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said:
"I trust Congress will soon provide similar opportunities to members of the merchant marine who have risked their lives time and time again during war for the welfare of their country."

This never happened due to FDR's death, opposition by some in the military, and pressure from organizations such as American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars who still believed and spread the myth about high salaries despite the letter sent to the Head of the American Legion in 1943. Some organizations and individuals still believe in the myth. The head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars still refuses to recognize the U.S. Merchant Marine as veterans of WWII in 2000 even though the U.S. Government does.

Merchant mariners, some of whom had 7 ships torpedoed under them, were wounded, or suffered in captivity, were called "draft dodgers." while veterans of "Armed Services" got parades, home loans, job and education preferences.

Were Merchant Mariners "draft dodgers"?
Merchant mariners were subject to the draft if they took more than 30 days shore leave. Experienced mariners who had been drafted were released by the Army to serve in the Merchant Marine. Harold Harper "dodged" the draft by being torpedoed 6 times. Nick Hoogendam, who was too young for the Army or Navy, spent 83 days on a liferaft drinking rainwater and eating "sushi." John Stanizewski, a mariner in WWI and WWII, had 10 ships knocked out from under him. Michael Horodysky was classified 4F in the draft due to a bad heart and sailed the dangerous Murmansk run and took part in the North African invasion. The Chief Engineer of the SS Peter Kerr, sunk in Convoy PQ17, had a wooden leg. Harold "Bud" Schmidt joined the Merchant Marine as one-eyed 16-year-old kid.

Were Merchant Mariners subject to court martial?
Yes. Merchant Marine crews were subject to Articles of War and court martial during WWII. Six crewmen of a Liberty ship did hard labor for refusing to work in a dispute with shoreside stevedores over loading tanks for the invasion of Sicily. Ray Thompson, Brigadier General, USAF (Ret.) and a former mariner, compiled a list 81 mariners court martialled or arrested after August 15, 1945, mostly for assault, theft, or being AWOL.

Refusal to Unload Ships
During the War, gossip columnist Walter Winchell, and a few other irresponsible pseudo-journalists, spread untrue stories about mariners refusing to unload at Guadalcanal, supposedly leaving the job to sick marines. Winchell and the newspapers that carried these stories lost the libel suits filed against them, and were forced by the court to apologize, print retractions, and to pay damages. Unfortunately, the myth that mariners refused to unload ships in Guadalcanal persists.

Tribute to the war record of merchant seamen was paid by General A. A. Vandegrift, U.S.M.C., Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, in a letter marking National Maritime Day 1946.
The letter was addressed to Captain Granville Conway, Administrator, War Shipping Administration.
General Vandegrift, who commanded the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal, wrote:
"On those distant Pacific Islands where the Marines fought, the men and ships of the merchant fleet constituted a vital link in the chain of supply... on National Maritime Day we of the Marine Corps take pleasure in congratulating your organization on a job well done."

Merchant Marine Service after V-J Day
In September 1945 and May 1946 the War Shipping Administration made urgent calls for seamen :"Demand For Seamen Still Acute. Men are still needed to man merchant ships in excess of those presently available and will be needed for some months to come. The job of the wartime Merchant Marine has not been completed. Millions of our armed forces must be brought home and supplies must be carried to the occupation forces throughout the world. Supplies must also be carried for the rehabilitation of devastated areas."

1945 Presidential Maritime Day Proclamation: The observance of Maritime Day will close as the sun recrosses the 180th Meridian in mid-Pacific where our merchant ships will be moving westward the tools of war for the attack on Japan.

New York Times, May 17, 1946. Boys Urged To Stay In Merchant Fleet
War Shipping Administration Administrator Granville Conway urged all 18 and 19 year old merchant seaman to stay on their jobs aboard ship... because there is still "a big job ahead for the merchant marine," "We must continue our supply our occupation troops and keep up the flow of essential supplies... to millions.. throughout the world." Failure to complete service will prevent... receiving the discharge emblem authorized by the President and will bar him from receiving other benefits which may accrue under the pending merchant seaman's war service bill. [which never passed in Congress]

These "Boys" who stayed in and served their country never received any benefits and they had to sue the Secretary of the Air Force -- yes, the Secretary of the Air Force -- for veteran status in 1987. And then the Secretary of the Air Force "declared" August 15, 1945 as the end of WWII when the official U.S. law date for the end was December 31, 1946.

The Secretary of the Air Force was given the job because some Congressional Bills were passed in 1977 to give the Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs) veteran status. Ironically, the WASPs were called "unnecessary and undesirable" by Congress in 1944 and disbanded in December 1944. The Secretary of the Air Force had the WASPs placed into U.S. law as the criteria for veteran status.

Seaman Rights

Struggle for Veteran Status

Men and Ships in WWII


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