Should Post-WWII Merchant Mariners Receive Veteran Status?

This is a contentious topic, that I’m sure many of the gCaptain readership has a some type of opinion on. I understand the arguments from both sides. I’m of the personal opinion that Merchant Mariners who have been subject to certain occupational conditions SHOULD receive veterans status and benefits. I don’t think your charter fishing boat captain should, but probably the AB on an MSC Oiler getting harassed by Iranians should.

Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and even today, many merchant mariners provide a vital service to our nation’s armed service. Some even see combat action, even today. I never have, but I have had friends that have been harried by Iranians, harassed by Chinese and Russian ships and aircraft, and transported the entire arsenal of the US Military, Tanks, Humvees, Missiles, Munitions, Jet Fuel, etc.

The “Maritime Service” is not a uniformed armed service, and I am not advocating that it be recognized as such. Some Merchant Mariners may be Naval Reservists, or work as Civilian DOD Employees, but work on a merchant ship is decidedly different from naval service.

Whatever your opinion, I’d like to hear it, both the long time commenters as well as the lurkers. Since we are talking about the American USMM in this post though, if you are not a stakeholder in the American maritime industry, please refrain unless your contribution adds value.

In the words of FDR:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, during signing of GI Bill on June 22, 1944
“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.”

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There is one major difference with the USMM in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam, as opposed to more recent conflicts. Back when there was a draft, joining the USMM was viewed as an alternative to the draft, or if you want to stretch a point, the USMM was just another branch of the service. With a draft, you don’t get a choice as to whether you’re going to put you ass on the line. As compensation, those in the military service got the veterans’ package, and one can argue USMM members sailing in lieu of being drafted should get all or part of the package too.

In the present volunteer military, you don’t get a choice either. You go to where they send you. But USMM mariners can quit. Not the same thing.

No draft since the 1970s. I worked on a ready reserve fleet ship during the Gulf War, and IMHO I’m not deserving of any benefit for sailing then. Could have quit most anywhere. I was in far more danger on any given North Pacific winter on an Aleutian freighter, and no one is going to give me a medal for keeping the nation in fish sticks.

Just my opinion.

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This happens to non-military US flagged vessels doing work for the US government often. At least when non-military US flagged vessels are in the vicinity of such jets & ships & the hostile targets think they can get away with it. If one of the foriegn pilots made a mistake & blew up a US flagged vessel working for the US military the military personnel on board might be hailed as heroes & get full military honors while the MMC holders are forgotten. Unless the military wanted to keep their actions secret & claim it was only civilian MMC holders who were innocently killed & the active duty personnel family members would be told a bunch of lies. Or maybe the government would try to sweep it under the rug like they did with Benghazi & pretend it never happened or blame it on YouTube.

As for me, I wouldn’t want any special recognition unless I was hurt or killed & my family was taken care of by Uncle Sam if I didn’t come home. Uncle Sam has deeper pockets than the contract companies he hires & can afford it. I also wish all contractor CAC cards could be used in the Navy Exchange. That’s a bunch a bullshit that they can’t.

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Let’s see, back during the Gulf War, Merchant Mariner’s signed Shipping Articles. To have broken Articles and quit- especially if your ship couldn’t sail because of you leaving- you could have been subject to administrative action- including suspension or more.

Shipping Articles and the way they have been administrated have changed through the years- during WW2 they were generally 18 months, unless broken when returning to the USA. During Vietnam and into the 1970’s we signed 12 month Shipping Articles… Once you “Sign On” you’re subject to the laws regarding these articles… Today there are “Individual Articles” which are generally 3 months to 6 months.

Make no mistake- during a real conflict or war- you would sign on and been held to these articles. MSC, on the other hand does not come under Articles aboard Civil Service Public Vessels- they have gotten away with all kinds of mayhem as a result- none of the usual protections afforded to Merchant Seamen protected by shipping laws and articles of engagement- they used to make people forfeit all of their pay on the books if they walked off foreign…

There are very few WWII merchant Mariners left; they are almost all dead. It’s an absolute disgrace that we are still arguing about doing the right thing almost 80 years later.

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No less than 7 of us in my family have sailed throughout all of the conflicts since WW2. (4 WW2, 3 Korea, 1 Vietnam, 1 Cold War, 2 Gulf War (2 for Part , 1 for Part 2).

In speaking with some of the WW2 Merchant Mariners in my family- there were two original “bones of contention” that was often used regarding them receiving Veteran’s Status- The first was the War Bonus and Harbor Attack Bonus. The second was the Draft exemption. There is still a mass amount regarding misinformation regarding this.

For example when I was getting ready to ship out during Gulf War 1, My Dad (a WW2 USMM Veteran) and I were in deep conversation about the War and Harbor Attack Bonuses…I explained that during the Gulf War- you received it when you entered a pre-described geographical area. I also asked him- “then you must have gotten it right after Departure from say- Sandy Hook”- This was NOT the case. During WW2 it was paid in a fractional manner- to get a 100% Bonus you had to complete an entire round trip voyage- say NY to Murmansk and back to NY… Harbor Attack Bonuses were paid when shell, projectiles, bombs or torpedoes came within a very close proximity to the vessel. Luckily, this changed during Vietnam and later; for the better.

Draft Exemptions- WW2 Merchant Mariners were exempt from the Draft provided the shipped out and spent no more than 30 days ashore between ships- on the 28th Day, the WSA (War Shipping Administration) would send your name, Union and particulars to the FBI- and you were “reminded” that you had better be shipping out before the 30th day- or you were picked up a taken to the local Draft Office. 30 days off after a 1 year voyage in hostile waters? Particularly memorable in my family was the visit from the FBI on the 29th Day- My Grandmother forcefully chased them out of the house and tenement- My Dad had been torpedoed and severely injured- was in fact still blinded and crippled (that went on for three or so months) when the Feds came a knocking…Draft Evader my ass. These family members were also very quick to point out that 3 out of the 4 of them had been sailing for years before WW2 started.

In closing (and do excuse my verbosity)- It is my profound believe that ALL US Merchant Mariners who have served in Hostile Waters- under fire or the imminent threat of such- be given some recognized form of Veteran’s Benefits- especially Medical Care (since there are no longer USPHS Hospitals), Modified Preference in Federal Hiring, Tuition and Housing Loan Assistance… Me personally- No Thank You; but to those who need it- Absolutely…

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As a 1965-1993 USN retiree I agree completely with this, particularly the Hostile Waters stipulation.

Half of my navy time was on ships and while I was in the theater of hostile operations, I was never in a hostile fire zone. So, I was eligible for American Legion membership, but not VFW. Same differentiation.

Under British Articles if your ship was sunk for any reason including enemy action during WWII your pay stopped that day. A master I sailed with, as third mate sailed a lifeboat hundreds of miles to Georgetown after being torpedoed, all off pay.