November 10, 2009 · 1:57 PM
On Veterans Day this year, we should take time to remember the veterans of the American Merchant Marine of World War II. These valiant men have long been overlooked for their service. It wasn’t until 1988 that the government finally granted them veterans’ status, with no benefits. That is the last you ever hear of the men who suffered the highest casualties rate of any other service. One out of 26 never came home. Through the first part of 1943, casualties among the seagoing force were greater proportionately that all the armed services combined. A total of 5,638 merchant seaman and officers are dead and missing; 581 were made prisoners of war.
The reason the casualty rate was so high was because the German U-boat fleet targeted merchant ships to choke off supplies to Britain and Russia. In the Pacific, Japan also targeted merchant ships for the same reasons. That was when we first heard of kamikaze planes. Without the vital military supplies, the armed forces could not function. The Merchant Marine served in every war zone and was involved with every invasion.
On this Veterans Day, let’s take our hats off to this valiant group of Merchant Marine veterans. There are not many left. They are now all in their 80s and 90s, and are disappearing fast.