Public Laws 95-202 & 105-368 provided veteran status to certain merchant seamen if the met particular eligibility criterion. There were 250,000 merchant seamen that served during the WW II timeframe of 06 Dec, 1942 to 31 Dec, 1942. Yet only 80,000 have been recognized as veterans. Why is that?

   There were about 16,600,000 members of the military armed services and all of them were recognized immediately upon discharge or very soon thereafter. The merchant seamen were ignored until more than 40 years after the war ended and then only received limited benefits for those that were recognized. Why was that? I can’t speak for all the seamen that have either been denied their eligibility or are not able to qualify for recognition because of actions other than their own, but I can speak for some 10,000 seamen that worked on the coastwise tugs and seagoing barges that worked the East Coast carrying war materials to the many defense plants that built the materials necessary to keep our troops supplied to defend this country. These same seamen who traveled the sub infested waters of the Atlantic unarmed, unescorted and moving at the speed of 4 knots per hour making them sitting ducks ready to be picked off any time 24/7. Actions by two government agencies took away their opportunity to be recognized as veterans they so valiantly earned. There has been no movement to rectify this situation to this date.

   These actions are identified in two official documents I received directly from the National Maritime Center when they returned applications from 5 members of my family denying veteran status based on no records existed to prove qualifying service during timeframes required for eligibility. USCG Information Paper #77 identifies three acceptable forms of documentation decreed to prove eligibility.

1: Certificates of Discharge (Forms 718A), 2: Continuous Discharge Books (deck or engine logbooks and 3: Company letters showing vessel names and voyages. Now, this same document also states that; “After WW II however, the deck and engine logbooks of vessels operated by the War Shipping Administration were turned over to that agency by ship owners, and were ordered destroyed during the 1970s.” The second action comes from the USCG Commandant’s Order of 20 March, 1944, that relieved the masters of tugs, towboats and seagoing barges from the requirement of issuing certificates of discharge (Form 718A) to seamen shipped or discharged. The third, company records identifying ship movement and crews aboard was highly unlikely to have ever existed because of government edicts against ship movement. Remember “Loose Lips Sink Ships”?

Neither Public Law identifies specific criteria to identify eligibility. The NMC has taken it upon itself to interpret these laws and have issued the above criterion. Does it take too much imagination to ask why only 80,000 of our seamen gained recognition? Has our government really given the Merchant seamen a fair shake in this matter? Alternative methods of recognition must be provided if we are to ever to repay those that kept our troops supplied with the materials they needed to do the job over there• Don Horton

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By Professional Mariner Staff