Gibson replies: Were mariners paid when their ships sank?

Re: Captain Gedney’s rebuttal to my article from the April issue of Professional Mariner (pages 60, 61) regarding the myth of pay stoppages.

Captain Gedney’s quotation from page 12 of the Navigation Laws of the US, as to wage terminations upon loss of vessels is a correct reading of that law. HOWEVER, he is absolutely incorrect in stating that this continued to apply during the period of World War II.

In my correspondence to Professional Mariner, which appeared in the April issue, I explained that a regulatory procedure designed by the War Emergency Board, effective December 19, 1941, superseded that provision of the U.S. Code. There is always, of course, a possibility that through clerical error some individual may have slipped through the cracks. But, that is unlikely since the War Emergency Board decisions were – as stated – carefully monitored by the War Shipping Administration (WSA) as well as by the seamen’s unions which were an active party to those stipulations. I would challenge anyone who now makes a claim that while serving on a U.S. flag merchant ship during World War II his pay stopped when the ship was sunk, to produce documentary evidence of such an occurrence. If such should be the case, I would think that MARAD, the present day successor to the WSA to which the War Emergency Board was aligned, would find that omission to be of interest and would hopefully be responsive to correction of that individual oversight.

In regards to another item in the April issue of Professional Mariner, Mr. Snyder stated in his article (pages 8, 9) that the 1988 approval for veteran’s status gave the merchant mariner of World War II limited veterans rights. That is incorrect. Those approvals by the Department of Defense Civilian/Military Service Review Board granted the same rights currently available to all veterans of World War II. The GI Bill of World War II was phased out many years ago, meaning that a veteran of, say, the World War II Army or Navy could not currently apply for the GI Bill benefits of house loans or educational subsidy. Filner’s bill and Nelson’s S-961 would grant such rights to merchant seamen retroactively but strangely enough neither bill would apply to World War II armed service veterans who had not previously applied for such early on benefits.

Unfortunately, those advocating passage of S-961 as described by John Snyder, have introduced further distortion to the history of the U. S. Merchant Marine of World War II. In my opinion, these distortions have only served to produce antagonisms against the bill which otherwise may not have arisen. I specifically point to the inflated casualty claims and the assertion that merchant mariner casualties were higher than any branch of the armed services.
For your interest, I reference three papers of my authorship in which I have tried to set the record into proper perspective. These are currently available on the internet:

I have reviewed the materials on which the Just Compensation Committee, the prime force behind S-961, has erroneously concluded, as quoted by Mr. Snyder in his article, that the casualty figure is “9,521, or 1 out of 26 who served.”  That claim includes personnel who died from causes totally unrelated to any combat event and is also inclusive of a number of crews of foreign flag vessels – some of the latter being under WSA time charter but others having absolutely no connection to any U.S. affiliation.

The Just Compensation Committee, in computing its ratio of “1 out of 26” deaths of those who served has deflated the number of men who saw wartime merchant marine service. That deflation, when coupled with an inflation of its fictitious combat deaths has produced a ratio far in excess of reality.

For the interest of a Congressional staff, and with the assistance of my wife, I did an analysis of what the combat related figures of U.S. flag ships actually were, utilizing in that analysis three recognized authoritative sources:

• Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, “History of the Armed Guard Afloat, WW II,” Washington, 1946, 1-15. This source quotes given Maritime Commission’s figures of 5,638 merchant seamen and officers dead and missing from World War II. This USMC figure was hastily compiled immediately following World War II and included deaths from enemy action as well as from marine casualties which were considered war related but not all combat caused. Since then the 1946 USMC figure has been updated and refined by:

• Captain Arthur Moore, a Kings Point graduate who sailed during World War II in his published work A Careless Word…A Needless Sinking.

• Dr. Robert Browning, Jr., Senior Historian at the U. S. Coast Guard, in his published book U. S. Merchant Vessel War Casualties of World War II.

Both Moore and Browning relied heavily on the old WSA files now held by the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD)

In doing our comparative analysis of Moore and Browning’s works, when comparing only combat related deaths, we found there to be only an eight-man disparity between the authors. A tally of Moore’s work came up with 5,755 deaths aboard those U. S. flag merchant ships damaged or lost directly through enemy action. Our similar tally of Browning’s came up with 5,763.

I enclose for your interest that analysis as dated October 15, 2007.

Personally I feel that Filner’s bill, HR-23, and Nelson’s companion bill S-961 are hopeless exercises only leading to frustration for those former seamen who have backed the effort, some with substantial contributions requested of them by the Just Compensation Committee whose concern with accuracy APPEARS minimal. What is of concern to me personally is the true history of the achievements and sacrifices of the U.S. flag merchant fleet of World War II. To distort that history by rank exaggeration made in the interest of an unrealistic monetary ambition is a sad legacy for us to leave behind.

This communication goes beyond a specific reply to Captain Gedney, serving also to correct the assertions made by Mr. Snyder.

By Professional Mariner Staff