In Search of World War II Coastal Barge and Tug Seamen
Written by J. Don Horton
We are in search of WW II seamen who sailed on coastwise barges and tugs during WW II and who have never been recognized as veterans under current laws. More than 10,000 seamen served on these coastwise vessels and many have never received their proper recognition as veterans. Several actions by our government have prohibited these seamen from attaining what they have so courageously earned. Orders from high authority relieved the masters of these coastwise barges and tugs from the responsibility of issuing pertinent documents now required in proving their service. Another action caused logbooks of some vessels to be destroyed. Without access to records, these seamen are prevented from gaining veteran status. Alternative actions must be put in place to correct this travesty.
The most severe action though, was to deny our women the necessary credentials allowing them the proper recognition as veterans of this nation for their service rendered. During the early part of the war women were told to leave the ships and were removed whenever a ship would stop at the next US port, despite their demand to stay and serve. Before they were removed some were KIA, POW, MIA and others severely wounded. They still served, even without approval and without credentials. They made their mark in history and should be recognized.
The first 18 months of WW II saw our ships being sunk faster than we could build them; putting success of winning the war in jeopardy. This information was kept from the press in fear the seamen would not volunteer for sure death because the casualty rates was so higher. During the first year of the war the Merchant Marine had more casualties than all services together. They ended the war with a casualty rate of 1 in 26 still higher than any other service. Therefore the media was ordered to curtail the number of ships sank. The loss of ships along the Atlantic Coast was staggering.
The high loss of our ships, to carry the war materials to our troops on three fronts, brought forth drastic measures. Various shipping companies were ordered to pull old wooden hulled barges from their graveyard pastures and put them back into service. These relics were well beyond their 25 year life span with most having been built around 1890 to 1920. Maintenance was limited as they were only expected to be needed for a short time. Not the case. Some served beyond the duration of the war.
The conditions on the barges were very primitive. Most seamen tended to steer away from the barges because of these conditions. They were without running water and electricity. They were heated by a single coal stove and illuminated by kerosene lamps. They had no toilet facilities. They leaked very badly and when loaded with their cargo, they required the bilges to be pumped 27/7 or until unloaded.
Since the younger and more able-bodied seamen preferred the large more modern ships, these barges were more or less left to others less fortunate to crew. Some elderly seamen came back to the sea and brought their families to serve as the remainder of the crew. This brought forth a resurge in a tradition in use since the beginning of this nation, barge families. Women who were refused shipping on the larger vessels came aboard as crew also. Some of these seamen were without the credentials now required to prove services aboard the vessels. The worked alongside those with credentials and were paid the same wages with taxes withheld. They performed the same work on the same vessel and were exposed to the same threats from the enemy as the certified seamen were. Yet, they cannot prove service without the proper documents other seamen were provided or they were directly denied those same documents because of their age, gender or disability. Today we call this discrimination.
We have a bill in the US House, HR 1288, “WW II Merchant Mariners Service Act” that has 117 cosponsors and led by North Carolina Representatives G. K. Butterfield, Walter Jones and Mike McIntyre, and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska. The remaining Representatives from North Carolina have come aboard as cosponsors to make this state unanimous. Yet, not a single Senator has stood up and offered a companion bill in the Senate. One senator says he has to hear from his constituents who served on these vessels before he will support. That same senator states the laws do not require changing for something that has no support. This same state has support from 100% of its counties and all of the US Representatives. Also, there never has been any legislation to help those women and school children or those that were physically handicapped who have always been denied their proper recognition. That senator never even addressed this issue. How can this be? That unless we can come up with constituents who will come forward and request this type of service there is no need for legislation?? Waiting for the bill to clear the House is not an option as most bills (96%) never get out.
We are now asking for anyone who served on those barges and tugs or anyone who knows of someone, perhaps some kin that served, to contact us so we can show our senators that they did indeed serve. The National Maritime Center has refused to provide any names citing the Privacy Act but we have discovered about 1100 seamen who served and about 100 of them have names usually associated with the female gender indicating they are probably women. We know they served but need help identifying them and provide sufficient data to support our claim so they can get their just due. The ages of those discovered range from 10 to 79. The average age of those that may still be with us would be about 90. Many have no knowledge that they are veterans. There may be less than 300 of these seamen left. We must locate those few that are still with us before they are consigned to oblivion and never given credit for their effort towards winning the war. We need help from all states to solve this American issue.
There is more info at a blog site (usmmv.blogspot.com) that gives more in-depth info and a petition can be provided for any state to ask for a Senate companion bill. Please contact J. Don Horton at 1 (252) 336-5553 of firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to help.