Statement of Donald W. McKone, Judge Advocate of the Merchant Marine Veterans Association re: HR 2346 (1945)

GENTLEMEN: My name is Donald W. McKone and I am from Washington, D. C. I am judge advocate of the Merchant Marine Veterans' Association of the United States. Our association is dedicated to insuring the welfare of the men who served in the merchant marine during wartime.

The merchant marine has valiantly upheld its end in every war in which the United States was engaged. During the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, they constituted our first fighting Navy, when the ships were quickly converted from cargo-carrying vessels to fighting ships. As a matter of fact, John Paul Jones was an American merchant seaman.

"Our national independence was really won and maintained for us upon the sea by the splendid constancy, valor, and skill of the armed crews of our trading ships, whalers, and fishermen, who in the Revolution were almost as numerous as, and far more effective than, the entire army of Washington."

These words were written by Winthrop Lippitt Marvin, in about 1902, and form a part of the introduction to his splendid and authoritative book, The American Merchant Marine.

The statement is not nearly so radical as it sounds when the facts, which fully substantiate its claims, are known. The truth is that few school histories devote much space to the sea-war side of the Revolution other than to recite the exploits of John Paul Jones, emphasizing the battle of the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis, with the result that many of us have grown up with the idea that Commodore Jones fought America's naval battles of those days all by himself. Without in any way belittling the personal bravery and sacrifices of the daring and fiery Scotsman, and without impugning in the slightest degree his glorious reputation, it is nevertheless a fact that the naval records of many a skipper of a colonial merchantman turned privateer equal or surpass the commodore's accomplishments.

However, the services of the merchant marine have been consistently forgotten at the close of each of these wars up to World War I. The merchant marine, during World War I, was recruited by the Shipping Commission, uniformed, trained, and kept under regulations quite similar to those of the armed services. They were not allowed to resign from the merchant marine to enter the armed services. There were drastic penalties for any infraction of regulations. At the end of World I, the merchant marine was disbanded and no benefits were received for its veterans or any efforts made to keep them intact for the future defense of this country. It. may be interesting for you to know that the losses of the merchant marine in World War I were many times those of the United States Navy.

The history of the merchant marine in World War II is well known. Again, its casualties in proportion to its strength compare with any branch of the armed services. At least 1,551 ships against 701 of all types lost by the United States Navy. However, we again find ourselves about to become the forgotten men of World War II. Let be cite several illustrations of the type of aid which merchant seamen most have:

The widows and orphans of men who lost their lives in the merchant marine during this war are without any kind of material aid from the Government. There was $5,000 insurance provided dependents of merchant seamen killed at sea. but that amount was quickly spent by a family in meeting the terrific expense which follows sudden death. Our files are full of pitiful letters from widows, some of whom have been unable to obtain even information concerning the loss of their husbands. They are without funds and cannot understand why their Government, which used every form of advertising to recruit men for the merchant marine, cannot help the families of those who gave their lives.

The second group consists of disabled seamen. Hospital facilities for these men at best, are inadequate. They do not begin to compare with those of the armed services. In addition, the period of time in which treatment can be received is very sort [sic, short?]. The merchant seaman disabled in this war by enemy action is a little better off than an indigent who depends on private charity for his existence.

The third group consists of those young men who entered the merchant marine abandoning their schoolbooks. The War Shipping Administration, in its desperate need for men, recruited boys of 16 for immediate sea duty with only a short period of training. Lots of these boys lost their lives and others were permanently disabled. We have two of these young men in the room today. Their cases are not by any means rare. In fact, they are members of our Washington post, which is one of the smallest in number. There are no educational provisions for these boys. If they are to resume their schooling it will be at the expense of their parents. There are no pensions for them and the future does not look promising.

The fourth group and the largest, are those men who entered the merchant marine in answer to appeals from their Government. In many cases they were too old for the Army and Navy or were classified as IV-F. Yet they ran the same risks as those in the Army and Navy who served overseas. Many boys of 16 and 17 and men of 60 years died bravely in the service of the merchant marine.

When they are released from the merchant marine they face the stiffest kind of competition in the labor market. When looking for jobs they must compete with war workers who have acquired new skills and seniority and veterans of the armed services who have employment preference, readjustment allowances, loan privileges, home-purchasing arrangements, etc. We must admit that this is a formidable array of competitors facing merchant seamen seeking to earn a living.

Now, with respect to pay rates of the merchant marine -- which a number of uninformed persons have circulated as being exorbitant. Even a cursory survey of these pay rates discloses that they are not in excess of those in the armed services. The hundred percent bonuses which were payable during the early days of the war and only in the most dangerous waters sounds fine, but when you consider that a hundred percent on ordinary seaman's pay means only $85 per month, the gilt wears off this pot of gold. This would net him together with net pay $170 per month. This salary rate is subject to the usual income tax which considerably reduces it. Let us make a few comparisons between relative ranks in the merchant marine, Navy, and Army.



 Armed services
pay per

 Comparable merchant marine pay with full bonus (1) (tax deducted) per annum
Wife and 2 children Navy seaman 2nd class


Ordinary seaman $1,897.70
Navy petty officer 2C


Able seaman 2,132.28
Navy lieutenant (senior grade) (on duty in Washington)


Second officer (trip to Hawaii) 2,640.00
Army captain, Army Air Force (overseas)


Second Officer (2) 5,280.00
Sergeant, Army Air Forces (overseas)


Boatswain (2) 2,700.00

(1) ($1,350 trips to Hawaii and South America).
(2) While on sea duty from England to Murmansk, Russia -- highest bonus payable.

It must be borne in mind that these are payroll figures. Merchant seamen do not enjoy armed services emoluments such as uniform allowances, free medical care for self and family, furlough trainfare rates, reduced admission to amusement places. etc.

All informed people know that the pay rates of the armed services during this war have been considerably increased over those of the last war. Income tax exemptions, clothing allowances, allotments for dependents, reduced train fares, admission fares, have added to the actual cash take-home pay of the armed services. Let me quote you from a recent Navy official publication, All Hands, September 1945 issue: "A civilian has to earn $3,600 a year to be as well off as an apprentice seaman; $6,000 to equal a CPO. * * * A CPO (chief petty officer) who entered the Navy at age 20 can retire at 50 -- on $155.25 a month for life. Few civilians have a future like that."

It is generally understood that the GI bill of rights for the armed services Is intended to restore the soldier or sailor to their place in civilian life he would have reached if he had not entered the armed services. Naturally, we are heartily in accord with this principle. In our bill we are not extending all of these benefits to men of the merchant marine. There is no provision for mustering-out pay, priority for purchasing surplus property, 10-point preference for disabled men, and the many other rights and privileges enjoyed by the armed services. We feel that it would not be feasible to provide such benefits for the merchant marine until such time as the merchant marine has been militarized for wartime service under a separate department and not intermingled with the Navy, Coast Guard, and other Government departments for administrative purposes.

The amendments to H. R. 2346 we propose provide only the basic benefits which we feel merchant seamen must have to enable them to compete on a nearly even plane with war workers and other veterans. There is no doubt in anybody's mind that they have earned this right. Out of 250,000 amen of the merchant marine, 88,000 received combat bars for actual battle engagements with the enemy, and all of them sailed in every war zone. The merchant marine has participated in every invasion whether made by the Army, Navy, or Marines. They have been on the beachheads by the hundreds, shelled, bombed, and machine-gunned. General MacArthur ordered them off their ships in the Philippines and Into fox holes because their ships were untenable. Certainly no one can deny that they materially aided in winning the war. We feel confident that the Congress and the American people will permit them to resume life ashore without basic impossible barriers to employment.

In closing my statement, I would like to touch on some opposition which we understand has been raised to this bill. We cannot help but believe this opposition comes from a minority. In the Gallup poll conducted in July 1945, 60 percent of the people felt the merchant marine should be included In the GI Act. Only 33 percent opposed.

As for the feeling of the men in the armed services, I would like to quote some of the men who fought this war:

Gen. Douglas MacArthur:

"They have brought us our lifeblood and they have paid for it with some of their own. I saw them bombed off Corregidor and more recently I have seen the same thing happen to them in ports in this area (Southwest Pacific) When their ships were not blown out from under them by bombs and torpedoes, they have delivered their cargoes to us who needed them so badly."

"I wish to commend to you the valor of the merchant seamen participating with us in the liberation of the Philippines. With us they have shared the heaviest enemy fire. On these islands I have ordered them off their ships and into fox holes when their ships became untenable targets of attack. At our side they have suffered in bloodshed and in deaths. The high caliber of efficiency and the courage they displayed in their part of the invasion of the Philippines marked their conduct throughout the entire campaign in the South-west Pacific area. They have contributed tremendously to our success. I hold no branch in higher esteem than the merchant marine services."

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, European theater (May 8, 1945)

"Every man in this Allied command is quick to express his admiration for the loyalty, courage, and fortitude of the officers and men of the merchant marine. We count upon their efficiency and their utter devotion to duty as we do our own; they have never failed us yet; and in all the struggles yet to come we know that they will never be deterred by any danger, hardship, or privation. When final victory is ours there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the merchant marine.

General Vandegrift, of the United States Marine Corps (March 9, 1945)

"The men and ships of the merchant marine have participated in every landing operation by the United States Marine Corps from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima-amid we know they will be at hand with supplies and equipment when American amphibious forces hit the beaches of Japan itself. On Maritime Day we of the Marine Corps salute the men of the merchant fleet."

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, United States Navy, Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean areas (May 11, 1945)

"The sea lanes of the Pacific, extended westward more than 4,000 miles In the last year, are crowded with merchant ships supporting our offensive against Japan. Without these ships wholly devoted to winning the war, our substantial program would not have been possible.

"This war has fully confirmed the necessity for a strong and sound merchant marine in time of peace so that it may be employed as an auxiliary of the Army and Navy in time of war. The convincing way in which this fundamental fact has been demonstrated in the Pacific is a tribute to the ability and patriotism of the American merchant marine and augurs well for the future.

"The merchant marine has repeatedly proved its right to be considered as an integral part of our fighting team."

Benefits to Merchant Seamen. Hearing before the Committee on the Merchant Marine and fisheries. House of Representatives. 79th Congress, First Session. Oct. 18 and 19, 1945

Merchant Seamen's War Service Act

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