Cosponsors sought for merchant mariner bill on veterans’ status

After 2 years of exhaustive work to gain recognition as veterans for some 10,000 coastwise merchant seamen, a solution may be imminent.  Three U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina are preparing to “drop” a proposed bill to Congress.  Before this happens, they have sent a “Dear Colleague Letter” to all other Representatives in the US House of Representatives asking them to become “original cosponsors”. 

The proposed bill, “WW II Merchant Mainers Service Act”, directs the Department of Defense to allow additional documentation to be used to replace qualifying specific official documentation destroyed/withheld by government actions. 
It will also  provide an avenue for women to finally be recognized for  their services in the merchant marine that until now were denied by specific direction of Admiral Emory S. Land, War Shipping Administrator in 1942.  These women served on these vessels using only an ID card and paying taxes through the Social Security Administration. A provision within the law allows for the Social Security documentation along with a certified sworn statement from the veteran or next of kin to be used to replace required official documents lost/withheld.  In some instances, during school vacations, complete families served and their teenage children also worked and paid their taxes through Social Security.  This Official SSN document will provide proof of service to replace the destroyed/withheld documents required to prove service.

In order to make this happen we need help in getting more cosponsors for the bill in every district in the U.S.  Will you help in your district?  Just a short call to your respective House Rep indentifying yourself as their constituent and informing them that you have read the “Dear Colleague Letter” (see below) and you completely support it and request that they add their name as a cosponsor should be sufficient.

You could offer other info as you wish, e .g. you are also a veteran, relative of one or you know other merchant seamen from you area who served and need to be recognized just as all others have; or whatever you choose.

I really appreciate the support you have given me in this endeavor and it is finally going to pay off, I believe.  Please pass along to me any feedback you receive from your efforts.  These seamen stood up for us when called upon and now we have an opportunity to repay that service.  If you wish additional information, please call me.  Thanking you in advance.

Contact me:  Don Horton at 252 336 5553  or email at:

Don Horton, of Elizabeth  City, N.C., served in the U.S. Merchant Marine intermittingly during school breaks from 1942 until 1950 and then again as a full time merchant mariner from 1955 through 1959.

Congress of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20515
July 12,2010
Dear Colleague:
We invite you to become an original cosponsor of the World War II Merchant Mariner Service Act. This bill will expand the official documentation accepted by the Secretary of Defense in determining a Merchant Mariner’s Veteran status.
Merchant Mariners were private citizens employed by freight shipping companies. In an effort to support the American war effort during World War II, those same freight shipping companies and their employees became an auxiliary to the United States Navy. Their mission was to transport bulk war materials including food, clothing, and weapons, as well as troops to all areas of conflict.
During their missions in open waters, Merchant Mariners would often encounter the enemy and take hostile fire. With minimal weapons training, the Merchant Mariners could not defend themselves and the assets they were charged with transporting in order to complete the mission. An untold number of Merchant Mariners were either wounded or killed while serving and protecting the United States. But the inherent danger did not deter these brave civilians from putting themselves in harm’s way.
In 1977, Congress passed and then-President Jimmy Carter signed into law the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977. This bill allowed the Secretary of Defense to determine that service performed by an “organized group of citizens” to be considered “active service” for purposes of Veterans benefits and also established the Department of Defense Civilian/Military Service Review Board and Advisory Panel. Subsequently, the Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998 was signed into law and expanded Merchant Mariner Veteran benefits to include burial in a National Cemetery.
In an effort to clarify what forms of documentation would be acceptable when a Merchant Mariner applies for Veteran’s status, the United States Coast Guard issued Information Sheet #77. A certificate of shipping and discharge forms, continuous deck or engine logbooks, and shipping company records that indicate the vessel names and dates of voyages are the only documents that are currently considered when a Merchant Mariner applies for Veteran’s status.
Unfortunately, the acceptable forms of documentation listed in Information Sheet #77 can be difficult, and in some cases impossible to locate. In fact, by order of the Coast Guard Commandant, captains of tugboats and seagoing barges were relieved of the responsibility of submitting reports of seamen shipped or discharged. The deck or engine logbooks were turned over to the War Shipping Administration and were ordered destroyed because they were too “voluminous to maintain, costly to keep, and rarely used for research.” Shipping company records that indicate the vessel names and dates of voyages likely never existed because written communication relating to the movement of supplies and troops was strictly forbidden by US military commanders.
Many of the remaining Merchant Mariners cannot locate the acceptable documents listed in Information Sheet #77 and therefore cannot receive Veteran’s status. Our bill expands the acceptable forms of documentation to include Social Security Administration records, validated testimony by the applicant or closest living relative, and other official records that provide sufficient proof of service.
Less than 10,000 World War II Merchant Mariners are still alive. Help to honor the sacrifices of these brave individuals who answered the call to serve when their country needed it the most.
For more information or to become an original cosponsor, please contact Saul Hernandez
(Butterfield) at 5-3101, Blair Milligan (McIntyre) at 5-2731, or John Thomas (Jones) at 5-3415.
Thank you very much.
                                                Very truly yours,
G. K. Butterfield                      
Member of Congress

Mike McIntyre                       
Member of Congress

Walter B. Jones
Member of Congress                                                         

By Professional Mariner Staff