(Photo courtesy DOD)
The SIU on May 18 joined in celebrating long-overdue recognition for U.S. Merchant Mariners of World War II as they received the Congressional Gold Medal in the Capitol Building.
Ten members of the American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV) participated in the one-hour ceremony, which featured remarks from members of congress, the administration, and the military. SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez represented the SIU at the event.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress. The veterans received the medal on behalf of the approximately 1,500 remaining mariners of World War II.
More than 1,200 SIU members lost their lives in wartime service.
“The bravery demonstrated by the U.S. Merchant Mariners to keep Allied Forces supplied during World War II is second to none,” said AMMV President Dru DiMattia. “In the face of targeted attacks by German submarines and Uboats, the unarmed U.S. Merchant Mariners met the moment with resilience and courage, and serve as an inspiration for all of American maritime.” In 2020, Congress unanimously passed the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act thanks in part to the advocacy of U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) along with organizations including the SIU. The bill was promptly signed into law, but the official award was delayed due to the global pandemic.
“We gave up our yesterdays for your and their tomorrow,” stated former mariner Dave Yoho during the ceremony, which he called a “humble tribute to my fallen brothers.” Yoho served in the engine department, signing on as a 16-year-old.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) led the congressional delegation to recognize the mariners.
“We celebrate these patriots for doing their part to preserve liberty,” Pelosi told them.
“They earned their rallying cry: ‘We deliver the goods,’” added McConnell.
Garamendi and the late U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) pushed Congress for years to honor the World War II mariners with a gold medal.
After saying it was “a great day, a happy day,” Garamendi declared, “Without you, the success of the World War II would not have happened.”
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) said the presentation was “long overdue.” He saluted the mariners: “Everything America asked them to do, they delivered.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut) paid tribute by quoting President Franklin Roosevelt: “The merchant marine delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operation and across every ocean in the biggest, most difficult job ever undertaken.”
Also taking part in the presentation were Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer, commander of the U.S. Military Sealift Command; U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Scott Buschman; and U.S. Maritime Deputy Administrator Lucinda Lesley.
The gold medal will be placed on display in the American Merchant Marine Museum at the Academy in Kings Point, New York. The World War mariners on hand received duplicates. They included Yoho, William Balabanow, Gerard Driscoll, James T. Lindsey, Charles A. Mills, George Offenhauser Sr., Bob Ross, James Sciple, Jack Laub and George Shaw.
For information on ordering a replica of the medal, email Katrina McRae at [email protected].