World War II U.S. Merchant Mariners are poised to receive a Congressional Gold Medal after the House recently voted to approve the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California).
“The United States Merchant Marine was integral in providing the link between domestic production and the fighting forces overseas, providing combat equipment, fuel, food, commodities and raw materials to troops stationed abroad,” the bill reads. The bill also makes clear that merchant mariners “bore a higher per-capita casualty rate than any other branch of the military.”
Garamendi said in his statement: “Throughout the Second World War, our armed forces relied on the Merchant Marine to ferry supplies, cargo and personnel into both theaters of operation, and they paid a heavy price in service to their country. The Merchant Marine suffered the highest per capita casualty rate in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. An estimated 8,300 mariners lost their lives, and another 12,000 were wounded, to make sure our service members could keep fighting. Yet, these Mariners who put their lives on the line were not even given veteran status until 1988.
“Last year, I got the chance to meet with three World War II Merchant Mariners: Charles Mills of Texas, age 97; Eugene Barner from Kansas, age 92; and Robert Weagant from Illinois, age 92. These mariners put their lives on the line for this country, braving German and Japanese submarines in their Liberty Ships as they delivered critical supplies to our servicemembers in the European and Pacific theaters,” Garamendi continued. “Unfortunately, their sacrifice is commonly overlooked. A Congressional Gold Medal would give them the recognition they deserve, and that’s why I introduced this bill: to give these veterans and their families the honor and respect they are owed. I’m pleased that this bill has passed the House and I will work to ensure it passes the Senate and becomes law.”
SIU Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman said of the bill, “These mariners have waited over 70 years to get the recognition they earned braving the perils of the Atlantic during the Second World War. This is a long overdue honor and the SIU is proud to have been a part of making it possible. Every American owes these mariners a debt of gratitude we cannot begin to repay, and this recognition is but a fraction of what they deserve.”
The bill passed the House by a unanimous voice vote. A companion bill has also been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). That bill still needs to pass a Senate vote and be signed by the president in order to become law.
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