The U.S. Senate – by unanimous consent – passed the Merchant Mariners Congressional Gold Medal Act with a minor language amendment on Dec. 19. Having been passed unanimously by the House of Representatives on Sept. 19, the bill now returns to the House for one more vote (expected to be a formality) before it is sent to the White House for the president’s signature.
The legislation, sponsored in the House by Rep. John Garamendi (D-California) and in the Senate by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), authorizes the creation of a gold medal to honor the U.S. Merchant Marine of World War II. The medal would be displayed in the American Merchant Marine Museum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York. Duplicates then would be struck and made available to the public.
The SIU and the Transportation Institute, alongside a number of other backers, took lead roles in obtaining co-sponsors for both the House and Senate bills.
More than 1,200 SIU members lost their lives in wartime service during World War II.
“Despite their loyalty and patriotic services and commitment to the United States, our World War II Merchant Mariners didn’t receive their veteran status until nearly 40 years after the war had ended,” Murkowski said. “The merchant mariners provided crucial services during World War II by transporting soldiers, tanks, airplanes, ammunition, fuel and food to aid soldiers on the front lines. This legislation recognizes the unsung heroes of the World War II conflict, for their loyalty and bravery, as they risked their lives to keep the Allied troops properly equipped. I’m thankful my Senate colleagues recognize the importance of honoring the brave merchant mariners for their pivotal role in our nation’s history and their efforts in defense of freedom.”
The House version of the bill was initially co-sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Indiana). In the Senate, the bill was initially co-sponsored by Sen. Angus King, Jr. (I-Maine), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). The bill eventually gathered 72 co-sponsors in the Senate and 302 in the House.
“The time has come for our nation to provide a well-deserved thank you and honor the remaining U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II with a Congressional Gold Medal,” said Christian Yuhas, vice president of the American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV). The AMMV helped champion this bill, as well as similar legislation in the past.
Yuhas continued, “This group of unsung heroes nobly served our country by operating the ships that transported critical supplies to front lines of the war, and in doing so suffered a casualty rate higher than any other branch of the military. In fact, one out of every 26 casualties during World War II was a volunteer merchant mariner. America would not be the great nation it is today without their valiant service of yesterday. I urge Congress to support this important bill and recognize this dwindling group of merchant marine veterans from World War II that have served our nation so admirably.”
Despite seeing action and danger across the globe during the war, merchant mariners were excluded from any type of veterans’ status until 1988. Even then, mariners received a fraction of what others who served during World War II obtained.
There are approximately 4,000 World War II U.S. Merchant Mariners alive today, according to Murkowski’s office.