Mariners' Struggle for Veteran Statusmariner on flotsam

"But once the war was won, what the bureaucrats [and politicians] in Washington did to the merchant mariners was reprehensible. They treated them like second-class citizens, and worse." [American History Nov./Dec. 1993]

The bureaucrats are still at it today!

During World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised mariners of the U.S. Merchant Marine, and Army Transport Service veteran status and a Seaman's Bill of Rights. His promises died with him.

In 1945 a grateful country heaped praise on the U.S. Merchant Marine for their critical role during World War II. On Maritime Day in May 1945 political and military leaders spoke out about their heroic contributions. Maritime Day 1945

New York Times, January 8, 1946. War Shipping Administration director Capt. Hewlett R. Bishop made an appeal for trained merchant marine personnel, especially licensed engineer personnel.

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.

The need for mariners after V-J Day, August 15, 1945 (Day Japan announced surrender) was still acute according Capt. Edward Macauley, USN (Ret.), Deputy Administrator for the War Shipping Administration in a September 17, 1945 Press Release. Capt. Macauley stated, "Men are still needed to man merchant ships in excess of these presently available and will be needed for some months to come. The job of the war time 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."
September 17, 1945 WSA Press Release

Mariners came home from Normandy, Anzio, Guadalcanal, or POW camps to face three main misconceptions about their service: high pay, draft dodging, and refusal to unload ships. Burned and wounded mariners paid for their own plastic surgery and, for those declared dead, had to return the insurance or the $1 per day received by their families. Mariners finally got limited veteran status in 1988 after a long court battle.

Veteran status for the Merchant Marine came about because in 1977 Senator Barry Goldwater, an Air Force Reserve General who was in charge of ferry pilots in WWII. Senator Goldwater wanted veteran status for the Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs) who ferried military aircraft in the United States and Canada. In May 1944, Congress called an attempt to militarize the WASPs as "unnecessary and undesirable" and they were deactivated in December 1944. TIME Magazine 1944

Congress demanded a procedure for any group to apply for veteran status, resulting in Public Law 95-202. Jurisdiction was given to the Secretary of Defense, who in turn, appointed the Secretary of the Air Force as the administrator.

As its first action the so-called Civilian Military Service Review Board (DOD C/MSRB) granted the WASPs veteran status. WASPs who failed training were granted veteran status. The Air Force set the WASPs as the criteria for veteran status. They were followed by 12 other groups which included telephone operators, field clerks, and dietitians. The question asked by thoughtful observers is how can a group that served only a brief period, suffered 38 casualties mostly in training, was called "unnecessary and undesirable," and disbanded before war's end be set into U.S. law as the criteria for veteran status. Mariners who suffered the greatest casualty rate of any service, with some 7,000 dead, were denied recognition. Ships sunk or damaged in WWII

Mariners were consistently turned down until those who served in the Normandy invasion were the 14th group granted status. In 1988, under orders from a Federal Court, Merchant Mariners of WWII were the 15th group. Stanley Willner, a POW at River Kwai, was one of the plaintiffs in the action.

Schumacher, Willner, et al., v. Secretary of the Air Force Edward C. Aldridge, Jr., 665 F. Supp. 41 (D.D.C. 1987)

The mariners took their case to Federal Court in Schumacher, Willner, et al., v. Aldridge [Secretary of the Air Force Edward C. Aldridge, Jr.] 665 F. Supp. 41 (D.D.C. 1987). Excerpts from Federal Judge Louis Oberdorfer of the United States District Court, District of Columbia, in his Summary judgment: plaintiffs sought "recognition to (1) American merchant seamen who rendered service to the U.S. Armed Forces while in ocean going service from December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946 [emphasis added]... Judge Oberdorfer "ORDERED: that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment should be, and hereby is, GRANTED:...

The Court held that: "Secretary of Air Force abused its discretion in denying active military service recognition to American merchant seamen who participated in World War II..., and decision of Secretary that merchant seaman who rendered services to armed forces while on ocean going service applied unstated and vague criteria and did not adequately support conclusion.... Secretary frustrated purpose of implementing regulations and denied plaintiffs fair opportunity to present their case....

"thus Secretary of Air Force abused its discretion in denying application.... However, the record contains unrefuted evidence that merchant seamen were trained in weaponry and wartime navigation techniques.

"The record is silent, on the other hand, as to the military training of dietitians, telephone operators, and other successful applicants.... the denials were arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.... Review of the voluminous record in this case compels the conclusion that the criteria set forth in the Secretary's regulations have not been applied even-handedly."

After the trial, Secretary of the Air Force Edward C. Aldridge, Jr. set August 15, 1945 as the end date of WWII. The Secretary of the Air Force has a "squadron" of colonels who have set themselves up as "experts" on the U.S. Merchant Marine. This "squadron" has spent much time and "research" trying to justify this improper date.

The August 15, 1945 date had nothing to do with fact or law!

This date was contrary to President Truman's proclamation (2714) ending hostilities, not the war, on December 31, 1946, and contrary to Congress which placed the December 31, 1946 date officially into law. As specified in law, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recognizes World War II as Dec. 7, 1941 through Dec. 31, 1946 (VA Pamphlet 80-97-1). This is the date recognized for veteran status for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to declare war, and also to end war. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law.

Proclamation 2714: Cessation of Hostilities of World War II, December 31, 1946. Although a state of war still exists, it is at this time possible to declare. . . that hostilities have terminated. Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America

Title 38, United States Code, Section 101(8): The term "World War II" means the period beginning December 7, 1941, and ending on December 31, 1946.

Discrimination by the Air Force
The Secretary of the Air Force discriminated against a few thousand mariners who put their lives on the line by sailing in hazardous water between August 15, 1945 and Dec. 31, 1946. Mariners were killed and wounded between these dates.

Civilian Military Service Review Board (DOD C/MSRB)
This Board is run by the Air Force. The present head is a retired Air Force colonel and lawyer. James D. Johnston, Executive Secretary, Civilian Military Service Review Board (C/MSRB), 1535 Command Drive, EE/Wing, 3rd floor, Andrews AFB, MD 20762-7002, telephone 240-857-5329, fax 240-857-9282. To observers it appears that everything goes through the Executive Secretary: apparently he looks at applications and attempts to find legal and historical evidence to approve or deny. Then he seems to come up with a decision, and arranges for a Review Board who apparently rubber stamp his conclusions.

Who is on the Board? Sometimes the names of Board members are disclosed, sometimes one has to resort to the Freedom of Information Act. Past Boards were dominated by the military and especially the Air Force.

When do they meet? Their meetings are held in secret.

Is the public able to attend? No, meetings are closed.

U.S. Maritime Service
The U.S. Maritime Service (USMS) was an official U.S. Government Training Program established by law under the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 to train men for the U.S. Merchant Marine. Its training operation began in September 1938 and continued until 1954. President Roosevelt understood the need for a strong U.S. Merchant Marine for the coming war. Over a quarter million men were trained in all aspects of ship operation including weapons training. The USMS was an armed, uniformed service that faced the enemy on its many training ships and then the trainees were assigned to ships of the U.S. Merchant Marine, Army Transport Service.

It is with a feeling of great pride that I send my heartiest congratulations and best wishes to the officers and men of the new U. S. Maritime Service Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, New York. Ten thousand apprentice seamen in training at one station is a magnificent achievement, and the entire country joins me in wishing you every success and in paying tribute to you men of the Merchant Marine who are so gallantly working and fighting side by side with our Army and Navy to defend the way of life which is so dear to us all. (emphasis added)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1942

The U.S. Maritime Service has been turned down for veteran status four times by the Air Force Secretary, while WASPs received veteran recognition for training time --- even those who flunked out. The U.S. Maritime Service (USMS) was an official U.S. Government Training Program while the WASPs were a civilian contract group. USMS trainees were trained in gunnery and served on training ships in submarine and mine infested waters.

Maritime historians and mariners are bewildered by the fact that the Air Force Secretary turned down the men and women who served in U.S. Maritime Service, the U.S. Merchant Marine (until an obviously unnecessary court trial), and Army Transport Service. These men and women were the key to the eventual conclusion of World War II.

The so-called Review Board controlled by the Secretary of the Air Force approved two more air-related groups early in 1998, bringing the total of air-related groups approved to 14 out of 34 groups that have received veteran status. List of Recognized Veteran Groups. The secretary of the Review Board refuses to divulge the membership of the Board and their meetings are closed to the public. The so-called Review Board has done a masterful job in confusing, complicating, and prolonging the issue of the end date of WWII for mariners. The discrimination continues: the Secretary of the Air Force, in a letter to a Senator, even referred to the Merchant Marine as a "subculture."

There will never be justice for mariners until the Air Force is removed from the decision process, and a fair procedure instituted.

The mariners of the U.S. Merchant Marine, Military Sea Transportation Service, and Military Sealift Command who served and were killed during the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars will never receive justice from the Secretary of the Air Force.

Congressional Legislation

Bills introduced in the 105th Congress, HR1126 and S61, would have rectified this. These Bills were to give mariners the right to call themselves "Veterans of WWII" and would allow them to request a $7 flag for their coffin and gravestone marker. In October 1998, these Bills were incorporated into HR4110 and the words honorable "discharge" was changed to "certificate" by someone on the House Veterans Affairs Committee headed by Congressman Bob Stump. As a result mariners would receive the same thing they received after WWII --- a certificate of honorable service, but apparently not recognition as veterans.


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