Bill Introduced to Honor U.S. Merchant Mariners of WWII

New merchant vessels for the war effort undergo outfitting at South Portland, Maine, 1942 (Library of Congress)

Published Jan 16, 2019 4:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) joined Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Susan Brooks (R-IN) to introduce a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. merchant mariners of World War II.

H.R. 550, the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, would award one of the highest honors in the United States to the mariners who sustained American armed forces throughout the 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,” said Garamendi. “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 servicemembers could keep fighting. Yet, these Mariners who put their lives on the line were not even given veteran status until 1988.”

“Unfortunately, their sacrifice is commonly overlooked," Garamendi said. "A Congressional Gold Medal would give them the recognition they deserve, and that’s why I’ve introduced this bill: to give these veterans and their families the honor and respect they are owed.”

“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 WWII was a volunteer Merchant Mariner," said Christian Yuhas, vice president of American Merchant Marine Veterans and a merchant marine chief engineer. "America would not be the great nation it is today without their valiant service of yesterday." 

The Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act was introduced in the Senate simultaneously by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). It is currently awaiting action by the House Financial Services Committee.

The Congressional Gold Medal has a long and storied history, and it has been awarded to some of America's most prominent leaders, soldiers, inventors, academics and artists. Past recipients include Ulysses S. Grant, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Rosa Parks, Frank Sinatra, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers, among many others. The bill to award the medal to WWII merchant mariners has been introduced previously, beginning in 2015, and it has attracted consistent bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.