May 12, 2011

The Forgotten Service

Of late one can note a number of veterans wearing a cap with their service branch on it along with the conflict they participated in. The forgotten service, the Merchant Marine, is absent as no one had produced such a hat.

A search which began over two years ago to seek such a hat, failed to produce any for these veterans. In desperation some were specially made up a few days ago. They feature an embroidery across the front that states at the top "United States" under that is "Merchant Marine" and below that "WW 2 Veteran".

Tuesday night April 19, Bill Sidwell at the Schuyler County American Legion Post 784, was presented with his hat depicting his service in WW II. Also still in the area, Fred Calhoun and Buddy Cass will be receiving their hats hopefully prior to publication of this article.

Bill served on the SS Egg Harbor which was a wartime built tanker of the series T2-SE-A1, of which some 481 were built. It was 523 feet long with a 68 foot beam (width), and displaced 21,880 tons loaded. It featured 6,000 shaft horsepower from a Turbo-Electric propulsion system. Speed was 16 knots (about 20 MPH) and carried some 141,200 barrels of product or nearly 6 million gallons.

She had a crew of 42 Merchant Marines plus a compliment of 17 US Navy sailors to provide defense with the guns that aboard. The Egg Harbor sailed out of Balboa, Panama to points West in the Pacific to refuel US Naval vessels in the war zone.

The Merchant Marine were never recognized as true veterans of WW 2 until the late 1980's, although they sailed in submarine infested waters for the duration of the war, suffering a larger loss of life (as a percentage) than any other service, having lost 1 of every 26 of the 243,000 who served or a rate of 3.9%. The US Marine Corps lost 1 in 34 or 2.94% and the US Army lost 1 in 48 or 2.08%.

The granting of veteran status for Merchant Marines was a lengthy process. It was proposed by FDR that members be considered as full-fledged veterans along with the uniformed services, however he died before the war was over and the issue was never pursued for years.

The process of getting veteran status for the Merchant Marines began again in 1977 when an effort was made to grant Veteran status to a civilian group, the WASP's (Women Air Service Pilots) who were used to ferry aircraft around mostly the United States.

With their gaining status as veterans some 12 other groups came forth and were granted veteran status, these groups included telephone operators, field clerks, dietitians, among others.

However Mariners who suffered the greatest casualty rate of any service, with some 7,000 dead were denied recognition.

The 14th group to gain veteran status was the Merchant Mariners who served in the Normandy invasion. The 15th group to apply for veteran status was the Merchant Marine as a group. As their application was denied by the then Secretary of the Air Force, they filed suit in federal court. Stanley Willner (a prisoner of war at the River Kwai) was one of the plaintiffs in the action.

This legal action concluded in 1987 with the federal judge granting the Merchant Marine full veteran status.

Should anyone in the Scotland County area know of a WW II veteran of the Merchant Marine and would wish to acquire a hat for them, these were made up by Robert and Sarah Jo Phillips at RPM Truck Accessories, Signs, and Shirts.

The design work is already done and the only expense would be the cost of the hat and the embroidery work. You could make a veteran happy.

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