Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why is S663 Thank You WWII Merchant Mariners Bill Bottle Up by Sen Akaka?

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Merchant Marine WWII poster

Over 243,000 men served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. The Merchant Mariners suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the U.S. Armed Services during the war. Of those 243,000 men who served, 21,521 are officially listed as died, missing in action or wounded: a casualty rate of almost 4%.

The Merchant Mariners ferried men, supplies and war materials across an Atlantic filled with German U-boats and across a Pacific that was controlled and patrolled by the Japanese Navy. At times, the Mariners were caught in the fighting and took up arms in battle against the Japanese.

After the war was over, these men, like other veterans that had served their country, returned home. However, unlike other veterans, they received no GI Bill benefits--or any other recognition. Mariners were denied the following benefits which other services received:

* 52 weeks unemployment benefit at $20 per week
* Free college education, which led to higher earning capacity during their lifetime
* Low-interest, low-down-payment home loans
* Disability benefits for life (mariners who were totally disabled received a maximum of $7,500)
* Veteran Affairs medical benefits for life
* Job preferences for veterans
* Priority for small business loans
* Shopping savings at PX (post exchange)
* Mustering out pay
* Priority for purchase of surplus government equipment
* World War II mariners, many of whom were high school dropouts, never recovered economically from the sacrifices they made for their country.

In July 2007, the House of Representatives considered a bill to help correct this oversight. It would pay surviving members of the U.S. Merchant Mariners a $1000/month benefit. The bill passed by a voice vote without a single dissent.

What a nice recognition from a nation that they had served. Finally, these men would be recognized.


But the recognition and the belated $1000/month benefit to the few surviving Mariners, most now in their 80s and 90s (average age: 84) was not to be. How could such a common-sense bill not pass?

H.R. 23 Passed House by voice vote on May 12, 2009. The Senate Bill S.663 has 60 co-sponsors.

The reason this bill has not passed is because Senator Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has refused to allow this bill to come to a vote. If he allows it to be brought to a vote, it will pass easily.

The question remains: why is Senator Akaka blocking this bill?

Other senators who are on this committee: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jim Webb (D-VA), John Tester (MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Roland Burris (D-IL), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Mike Johanns (R-NE).

Both Senators Akaka and Rockefeller's offices have declined to comment, despite repeated attempts to elicit a statement. We were told that "someone would call us back."

We're still waiting.

As are the dwindling number of surviving Merchant Mariners. Our wait hasn't been as long as those veterans have been: WWII has been over for 55 years.

What is Senator Akaka waiting for? Are there any other members of the committee who are concerned that every day they stall, more of these men are passing away?r

Sadly, we do not know.

Do readers think Akaka is doing his best to ensure that the Merchant Mariners remain the Forgotten Branch of the Service?

Senator Akaka's official website contains no mention on the front page of S.663. Lots of other stories, but no S.663, even though this bill has been stalled in his committee since last March.

Why won't Senator Akaka act?

Questions, questions, questions.

Questions only the Senator can answer.

The following are a few comments from relatives of Mariners who served in WWII.

From House OKs bill to pay WWII Merchant Marines $1,000 a month:

My wife's step father is 78 years old. He served in the Merchant Marines during WWII from the time he was age 15 to the end of WWII. He went into the Marines and served in the Korean War.

I work as an Actuary for an insuarnce Company. Because of the high average age of current surviving Merchant Marines from the WWII era the benefits should be significantly higher for the shorter future life expectation and the delayed payment of the benefits.

President Roosevelt had intended to do something to thank the Merchant Marines for the part they played in WWII and he died before it happened.

Why has it taken our government more than 50 years top say thank you? Why is this Bill to give benefits to the WWII Mercahnt Marines stuck in the Senate? Lets hope this effort does not die before the final WWII Merchant Marine survivor dies!!!

Had these WWII Merchant Marines received the benefits that other armed servicemen received: THE GI BILL for WWII Veterans included mortgage benefits, education benefits, and medical benefits to name a few. Senate, please get this resolved before Christmas Recess.

My father served as a Merchant Marine during WWII and since has found out that causually rate was extremely high. When he got out jobs were for "Veterans Only", Houses were built for Veterans Only, thus he was discriminated clearly. They had NO GI benefits yet put their lives on the line making sure supplies were received in Europe and around the world. A thousand dollars a month is a token... but a well desired one.

Ed Grant wrote:
My Dad,now 87 years old, served in the Merchant Marines in the European and Pacific theatres of World War II. He contributed as much any other combatant in his service to our nation during that horrible period of history. It is absolutely imparative that this bill be passed into law for the few surviving MM Vets remaining. My Dad, to this day, has nightmares about the horrors of war he witnessed. It is time for the nation to show these valiant sailers that their sacrifices were and are appreciated.


We talked to one caller who did manage to get through to the senator's office; he said that "the senator says there's no money to fund the bill."

But there's money for the senator's other pet projects, such as the Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition Act.

If readers think this borders on outrage--when the government budgets over 3.5 TRILLION dollars for turtle tunnels and wine trains--and want to do something, they might contact Senator Akaka's office (202) 224-6361.

Or they might contact other members of the Senate Armed Forces committee, such as Senator Rockefeller (202) 224-6472.

Click to sign the
Petition for 'Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II

Since first learning of this sorry situation, this writer has attempted to contact Senator Akaka's office to get a statement. But, this will not be the first article on this subject. Though time is running out for the Mariners who served in WWII, we will keep trying to get through and find out what has held up S.663.

Readers might call on Senator Akaka to bring S.663 to a vote in committee. Allow the full Senate to vote on this bill.

Or, at the very least, Senator Akaka should explain to Americans why he's holding this bill up. Maybe he has a good reason.

The mariners who braved bombs, torpedoes and bullets in World War II deserve, at the very least, the senator's explanation.

by Mondo Frazier

images: Covertress
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