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Op-Ed: Congress Should Honor WWII Merchant Marine Veterans

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A Brunswick-built Liberty Ship circa 1944 (file image)

By Denise Krepp 10-01-2019 09:33:31

The House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 550, Merchant Mariners of World War II Congresional Gold Medal Act of 2019. The bill was sponsored by Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) and it passed by voice vote. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced identical langauge in the Senate, S. 133, but to date the Senate hasn’t voted on it.  

Both bills reference the merchant mariners’ contribution to winning the war. Merchant mariners transported combat equipment, fuel, food, commodities, and raw material to troops stationed abroad. According to Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, the Navy’s success during the war was directly linked to the merchant mariners who supplied combat ships.

Many of the merchant mariners served aboard Liberty Ships built in Brunswick, Georgia by workers at the J A Jones Construction Company. Brunswick is located on the Georgia coast and it’s a hot, humid part of the country.

But the weather didn’t deter the workers. A war was raging and the military needed cargo ships to transport much needed fuel and food so the workers hustled. Betwen July 6, 1942 and May 22, 1943 they laid ten keels. An additional seventeen were laid by the end of that year. 

The Liberty Ships built by Georgians were also named for prominent Georgians, like James M. Wayne. Wayne served as mayor of Savannah, Representative of Congress, and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The SS James M. Wayne was launched on March 13, 1943, and she was allocated to the Waterman Steamship Company.

J A Jones Construction Company workers also built the SS Joseph Rucker Lamar. Joseph Rucker Lamar served in the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Supreme Court. He was subsequently nominated by President Taft to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. (Lamar was also a member of my family.) The SS Joseph Rucker Lamar was christened on April 29, 1943 and was allocated to the Atlantic, Gulf & West Indies Steamship Lines.

Earlier this week, I sent a letter to Georgia's senators, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. David Perdue. Georgians built the ships that World War II merchant mariners served on. These ships were named after Georgians who served their country in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Supreme Court. I asked the Georgia delegation to support those who put their lives at risk for our country eighty years ago.

I encourage everyone to send similar letters to their Congressional delegations. Merchant mariners transported the fuel and food our soldiers, sailors, airman, and coast guard personnel needed during the war.  Please help them get recognized for their service.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a former Coast Guard officer and former chief counsel of the Maritime Administration.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.