WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) testified in support of his bill, H.R. 1288, the World War II Merchant Mariner Service Act, at the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.
H.R. 1288 would expand the very specific list of acceptable documents considered by the Federal government when Merchant Mariners who served during World War II apply for veterans’ status. Currently, the documents permitted to satisfactorily prove service can be extremely hard to find, may have been ordered destroyed, or never existed at all.
Merchant Mariners were asked to assist in the war effort by the War Shipping Administration and many were not issued formal military records proving their service. Instead, captains of vessels kept “Merchant Vessel Logbooks” that recorded who was aboard the vessel and its intended destination, among other information. According to United States Coast Guard Information Paper 77, the Merchant Vessel Logbooks were turned over to the War Shipping Administration and were destroyed in the 1970s.
“Merchant Mariners who served during World War II don’t deserve their recognition of service be held hostage just because the acceptable documentation proving service is too narrow,” Butterfield said. “These everyday people who were turned into an auxiliary of the War Shipping Administration deserve to be honored for their sacrifices and contributions to the war effort, and that’s what my bill aims to do.”
The window is quickly closing to expand what documents the Federal government can consider when determining whether to award veterans’ status to a Merchant Mariner who served during World War II. Estimates show that fewer than 2,000 of these mariners who served the United States during World War II are still living.
“Coastwise Merchant Mariners who served our country during World War II did so without formal training or the equipment necessary to defend themselves,” Butterfield said. “We must act swiftly if we are to honor these unsung heroes, many of whom paid the ultimate price. These men and women answered the call to serve when our country needed them the most and they deserve to be honored for their sacrifices.”
H.R. 1288 currently has 85 bipartisan cosponsors and is endorsed by American Merchant Marine Veterans, Inc.