D-Day 70, 2014 WWII Mechant Marine Service Act

By Michelle Howard
Friday, June 06, 2014
Klaus Luhta

During the 70th observance of D-Day, 10,000 surviving World War II American merchant marines, the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots and U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield will be pressing the Senate to pass legislation giving these veterans benefits they were promised but have been denied for decades.

According to MM&P, a few weeks before the D-Day anniversary, on May 22, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 4435 – the Defense Authorization Act. It includes Department of Defense 2015 funding and the WWII Merchant Marine Service Act provision, authored by Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat. The bill is now headed to the Senate.

“D-Day would not have been possible without the Merchant Marine. Now that the long-awaited day is history and great Allied forces have been landed in France, it is permitted to indicate the part played by these intrepid civilians, whose deeds for the most part have gone unsung,” published the New York Times on June 10, 1944.

“The benefits many WWII merchant marines were granted but never provided include healthcare, disability payments and 21 gun salute funerals at America’s 120 national cemeteries,” explains Captain Klaus Luhta, MM&P’s chief of staff.

Luhta adds, “Imagine how these 85 to 100 year-old men and women will feel watching D-Day ceremonies on TV knowing their country officially recognized them as veterans and granted them benefits, which ‘red tape’ has made unobtainable.”

House Passes Bill Just Before D-Day 70
Getting these benefits is now one-step closer to reality.

“The WWII Merchant Marine Service Act simplifies the benefits qualification criteria by broadening acceptable forms of evidence proving actual service,” explains Butterfield.

The 1977 GI Bill Improvement Act deemed WWII merchant mariners are entitled to the same benefits as other combat veterans. However to qualify for these benefits these people have to produce an array of documents difficult to produce, according to MM&P.

“After the attack on Pearl Harbor, during the rush to recruit merchant mariners, enlistment documents were either not filed, lost or destroyed,” explains the Congressman. “The new bill allows Social Security Administration records, testimony by the applicant or closest living relative, and other records as sufficient proof of service.”

Congressman's Three Year Fight For Passage

Luhta, a merchant marine deck officer and attorney specializing in regulatory and legislative affairs, says, “For three years, Congressman Butterfield has pushed passage of the bill but each time it sinks either in committee or in the Senate.”

“If the legislation continues treading water in the Senate, where it has previously drowned, these last remaining heroes who dodged Nazi U-Boat torpedoes and Japanese Kamikaze missions, while delivering supplies to U.S. troops, may all be gone before they receive the benefits they rightfully earned. That would be an American tragedy,” says Captain James Staples, MM&P’s Senior Advisor.

According to the now-defunct U.S. War Department, there were more than 250,000 merchant mariners serving during WWII, of which 9,000 were killed in action. More than 15,000 were seriously injured.

D-Day: Operation Neptune
Operation Neptune is the name given to the U.S. Merchant Marine D-Day mission of water transportation of men and equipment to Normandy, France. The initial assault ships carried 160,000 troops and 16,000 vehicles. The assault armada numbered 6,939 ships, boats and amphibious craft -- the largest number of vessels ever assembled.

WWII Merchant Marine
From 1941 to 1945, private industry-owned cargo vessels and tankers transported armaments, fuel, supplies and troops to the European and Pacific theaters. These ships traveled in convoys. They were easy enemy prey, especially when sailing alone.

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