There are about 4,000 World War II merchant mariners still alive today and a bill in the United States House would allot $25,000 to each eligible mariner in recognition of their service.
A separate bill has already been sent to committee in both the House and Senate that would award the WWII merchant mariners the Congressional Gold Medal.
The House's “Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2019,” would establish a “Merchant Mariner Equity Compensation Fund” to provide benefits to “certain individuals who served in the U.S. merchant marine” during WWII.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), appropriates $125 million for a fund beginning in 2020 allowing each eligible merchant mariner $25,000 after the Secretary of the Treasury receives eligible applications.
Sheila Sova, the daughter of WWII merchant mariner Orville Lee Sova, has been fighting for men like her father to get the recognition they deserve for over a decade.
“We have been fighting for their recognition since 2005,” Sova told Connecting Vets.
Rep. Green's bill would establish a compensation fund for merchant mariners “who did not receive the GI Bill until 1988,” Sova said. Adding, “For 43 years, they had no healthcare.”
Though her father died in 2015, Sova is still working to ensure that his fellow merchant mariners are not forgotten, serving as a volunteer advocate for the American Merchant Marine Veterans
While several bills have been filed over the years to honor the merchant mariners, none have made it to the floor of either chamber for a vote, Sova said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Ark.) and Rep. John Garamendi's (D-Calif) bill, the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019, would award a Congressional Gold Medal to the WWII mariners “in recognition of their dedicated and vital service.”
“The United States Merchant Marine was integral in providing the link between domestic production and the fighting forces overseas, providing combat equipment, fuel, food, commodities and raw materials to troops stationed abroad,” the bill reads.
Congress can award one gold medal each year, the "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions" of an individual, institution or event, according to the history of the award. The merchant mariners would display the gold medal at the American Merchant Marine Museum in Kings Point, NY.
Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King acknowledged the indispensability of the Merchant Marine to the U.S.'s victory, stating in a 1945 letter that without the support of the Merchant Marine, “the Navy could not have accomplished its mission. President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged that ‘through the prompt delivery of supplies and equipment to our armed forces overseas, and of cargoes representing economic and military aid to friendly nations, the American Merchant Marine has effectively helped to strengthen the forces of freedom throughout the world.'”
During WWII, the merchant mariners “bore a higher per-capita casualty rate than any other branch of the military," the bill said.
Sova said the merchant mariners have already lost out on the award to other groups during two previous sessions of Congress but is not discouraged.
“They are indeed the unsung heroes of WWII,” she said. “It is time that we wake up the public and teach them a little bit of history. I have dedicated my time and efforts into getting bills passed to recognize these men and will not stop what I am doing until it is done.”