Merchant Marines deserve benefits, even if it's too late
Sen. Ben Nelson is urging the Senate to follow the House of Representatives in passing legislation to honor World War II?Merchant Mariners.
He is urging the Veterans Affairs Committee to advance the "Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2007," which would provide $1,000 a month, tax free, to the merchant mariners or their widows.
"Merchant Mariners served this country by delivering troops, tanks, food, airplanes, fuel and other needed supplies to every theatre of the war," Nelson said. "Yet they have been denied the benefits given to other service branches. It is past time to pass legislation to honor and recognize the contribution of Merchant Mariners during the Second World War."
It is appropriate to that the bill includes the word "belated"; with about 1,000 World War II veterans dying each day, there are only about 9,500 Merchant Mariners and their widows who are old enough to have served in World War II. Their average age is 83.
The problem is that Merchant Mariners were officially civilian; lawmakers have been concerned that providing benefits every civilian who was involved in the war effort would be financially impossible.
They were provided a watered-down version of the G.I. Bill of Rights, but some portions of those benefits were never made available.
But Nelson points out that merchant mariners suffered the highest casualty rate of any of the branches of service in World War II, about one out of every 26. More than 9,000 Merchant Mariners were lost at sea as they tried to deliver troops, tanks, food, airplanes, fuel and other needed supplies. More than 800 ships sank between 1941 and 1944 alone.
Although it's obviously a tiny conflict by comparison, our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan shows how those who deliver supplies can be in as much or more danger than those on the front lines.
Clearly, the Merchant Marines were a special class of "civilian." They deserve their nation's honor, and, yes, financial support, even though it is, for the most part, too late.