U.S. House Approves Bill to Recognize Merchant Mariners of WWII

Allied merchant convoy south of Newfoundland, July 28, 1942 (USN)

Published Sep 24, 2019 4:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. House of Representatives has given unanimous approval to a bipartisan bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the merchant mariners of World War II.

“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,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), the bill's sponsor. “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.”

The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has a parallel bill introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on its docket. Garamendi says that he will continue to push for its passage. 

The merchant marine played an essential role in the Second World War, delivering most of the material for the D-Day invasion and providing a lifeline for Russian forces via the notoriously dangerous Murmansk Run. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt noted the merchant marine's critical contribution in undertaking "the biggest, the most difficult, and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken." 

If passed, the bill will grant one Congressional Gold Medal to all WWII merchant mariners as a group - including the last surviving members, the youngest of whom are now in their ninth decade of life. "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," said Rep. Garamendi.