Statement of Congressman George B. Miller, California on HR476

February 18, 1947

Mr. Chairman, I had the privilege of appearing before this Committee last year in support of this bill. I want to come here and reiterate my position so far as that is concerned. I believe that in the waging of modern warfare, those things we looked upon as being exclusively in the field of armed services have materially changed, and that whether a man was on a naval vessel in the uniform of the United States Navy or whether he was on a merchant ship in the uniform of a merchant seaman under the Maritime Commission, or otherwise, the same torpedoes brought about the same hardship and were responsible for the same loss of life.

I have seen merchant ships in my own district, in the docks at the shipyards in Richmond, carrying on their funnels or on their deck houses little pictures indicating the planes that they had shot down at Leyte Gulf or at other places in the Pacific where they had received wounds that brought them back for drydocking. Certainly, the personnel on those ships were subjected to the same hardships and the same hazards as the armed crew on the ships. We find ourselves in a position, then, of saying to the widow of one person, or the man himself who might have been a member of the armed crew of that vessel, "You are entitled to certain benefits under the GI bill of rights" and we may say to the other man, "Because you did not go through the formality of entering the armed services or for physical reasons you might have been rejected from the Navy and served in the merchant marine, your widow, or you, are not entitled to these rights."

So to me the distinction between those whom we recognize in the GI bill of rights and those subject to the same hazards disappear. I believe that this country has the same moral responsibility to its merchant seamen who served in battle areas as it does toward any other people in the service.

That is about all I have to say, sir. I favor this bill in principle. I appeared before this committee last year, and I am happy to be here again.

Mr. BRADLEY of California. Have you gentlemen any questions you would like to ask Mr. Miller?

Mr. BROPHY. Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask Mr. Miller a question. Do you feel they were exactly the same, that the merchant marine boys could on reaching an American port determine their own furlough?

Mr. MILLER. That is superficial. While they could determine their own furlough they still had to go back to sea again and they still went back to sea again. If they were within the draft age, if they took advantage of that furlough any longer, perhaps, than the man in the Navy who came into port, the privileges granted them were withdrawn and they went into the armed services. Where a few of them may have hid out behind that, just as a few people in the armed services hid out behind other things, I am not going to ask you to deprive the great group of them who went in with the same spirit and performed their duties with the same unselfish spirit of serving their country because there were a few renegades in the group. That same percentage of renegades appeared in the armed services or any other place.

Mr. POTTS. A lot were actually over draft age, weren't they?

Mr. MILLER. Yes. A lot of them served voluntarily. You remember we sent out call after call on the radio asking, for instance, ex-merchant marine officers to come into the service. There were thousands of those people who never could have been touched or never forced into the service who voluntarily stepped out of civilian life to go back in and man the merchant ships.

Mr. POTTS. I recollect, one individual who left a very lucrative employment in the camera business, was tickled to death to get back into service. He was beyond the draft age. The sole reason he gave me -- he had not been on the sea since the last war -- was that he was going to make a great amount of money by doing it. I saw him many times after he came back from trips, He was very happy in the employment which he chose.

Mr. MILLER. I don't think there are many men in this country who walk into the hazards which attaches to them in carrying the materials into the battle areas who did it with the monetary motive behind it. Men just don't accept money for doing that. There may be a few, again, who do that. But these ships which were out there with the fleet and were subjected to the Kamikazes and the same type of strafing the battleships were which did not have all of that protection, men just were not motivated by money alone.

Again there may have been a few of them. There may have been a few high-ranking officers in our Navy who would like to continue in those upper ranks because of the emoluments that come with it. I will not charge the Navy with being unpatriotic because of that.

Mr. MALONEY. It is a fact, is it not, that these men made considerably more money than the men who were in the Navy?

Mr. MILLER. I presume that is right.

Mr. MALONEY. Do you have any basis of comparison as to that?

Mr. MILLER. No, I never have studied the thing quite that closely. I know they made some money. I know other people made money during the war, too.

Mr. BROPHY. Isn't it a fact they made about 5 to 1?

Mr. MILLER. Well, I suppose if you want to take the lower rating in the Navy that is about correct.

Mr. BROPHY. No, I mean in comparable positions.

Mr. MILLER No, I do think it is quite that high.

Mr. BROPHY. Two able-bodied seamen, one in the Navy and one in the merchant marine service, as examples.

Mr. MILLER. I don't know. I never have gone into that phase of it.

Mr. BRADLEY of California. That will be brought out in tabular form.

Mr. MILLER. Yes, I think it will be brought out by competent people. I don't profess to know any more about it than you, my colleagues, in that respect. I am not an expert witness on the subject.

Mr. MALONEY. You would not consider that extra compensation they got as any reason why this bill should not be passed?

Mr. MILLER. I consider the hazards that the men went through rather than the compensation. I think the longest time spent at sea on one of those things was spent by men in the merchant marine service [referring to raft]. I pointed to the picture of the merchant marine men on a life raft in the ocean.

Mr. BRADLEY of California. Any further questions?
I hope you gentlemen will bring out all the phases. You must remember if this does get to the floor of the house we will have to defend it and will have to have everything brought out as we go along.

Mr. BONNER. I am not a member of the subcommittee.

Mr. BRADLEY of California. It makes no difference.

Mr. BONNER. What would be your views to inducting merchant marine into the national defense in case of a future emergency?

Mr. MILLER. I believe in the case of a future emergency again, I am not on the Armed Services Committee or this committee but I think it is good common sense that in the event of a future emergency that the merchant marine most likely would find itself right in the naval service more or less, because it is so important to the navy service. It is just an integral part of our national defense, just a much as the Navy or the Army. Many years ago we did not accept doctors, for instance, in either of the services. As late as the Spanish American War the Medical Corps were contract personnel. They were not even commissioned officers. A doctor was under contract. We have gotten away from that. We bring them in.

As I see it, in all our future wars you will mobilize everything including scientists and everybody else, and most likely bring them under the umbrella and level out everything. That is why I feel strongly about this. As I said in the beginning, men who were subjected to the same hazards should receive the same treatment.

Merchant Seamen's War Service Act
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Source:
SEAMEN'S BILL OF RIGHTS: Hearings Before The Ship Construction and Operation and Maritime Labor Subcommittee of The Committee On Merchant Marine and Fisheries House of Representatives Eightieth Congress: First Session on H. R. 476: A Bill to Provide Aid for the Readjustment in Civilian Life of Those Persons Who Rendered Wartime Service in The United States Merchant Marine, and to Provide Aid for Their Families.

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