Untold History of the Merchant Marine

Untold History of the Merchant Marine

Many people don’t realize that the Merchant Marine suffered the highest rate of casualties during World War II. While serving as civilians, one of every 26 Merchant Marines perished at sea.

In WWII, America fought on every continent across the globe; every bullet, gun, bomb, helmet, uniform, boot, tank, jeep, truck, tent and c-ration to support the soldiers moved on the merchant ships crewed by the civilian seamen of the United States Merchant Marine. Nazi U-Boats roamed the seas slaughtering hundreds of merchant ships who were attempting to supply the allies with much needed war materials. 33 ships per week were sunk by the German submarines.

One of the most costly disasters of the war occurred in the Italian port of Bari, December 2, 1943, during the invasion of Italy. A German air attack sank 17 Allied merchant ships with a loss of more than 1,000 lives. One of the five American ships destroyed that day was the SS John Harvey which carried a secret cargo of 100 tons of mustard gas bombs. When these exploded, hundreds of mariners, navy sailors and civilians were affected. Many died from the effects of the mustard gas.

Merchant Marines, to this day, still do not garner the accolades typically reserved for members of the Armed Forces, and until recently didn’t receive any government benefits. Unlike their military brethren, Merchant Marines paid taxes, didn’t receive any funds for college tuition or low interest loans, plus they didn’t earn health care. In fact, from the moment their ship was torpedoed, they stopped receiving any money the instant they entered the water. Yes, while they were treading water to stay alive they were no longer considered employees and didn’t get paid.

Although many of the Merchant Marines serving in WWII have passed it’s not too late to help preserve their memories and dramatic tales of heroism. By becoming a member of the SSLV or donating to the United States Merchant Marine Veterans World War II, you’ll be supporting the Merchant Marine ship, the S.S. Lane Victory and its two museums dedicated to the efforts of Merchant Marine seamen and their brave efforts during wartime.

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