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American Merchant Mariners who served during World War II were awarded the Congressional gold medal during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Ten WWII veterans of the U.S. Merchant Marine were in attendence to accept the gold medal award on behalf of all U.S. Merchant Mariners of World War II and the approximately 1,500 living veterans.
Outside of maritime circles, it is not widely known that the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered the higest casualty rate any branch of U.S. military during WWII. Of the 243,000 mariners that served in the war, 9,521 perished while serving, meaning roughly four percent of those who served were killed.
The Merchant Marine risked their lives to provide crucial services to the U.S. military during WWII, operating commercial and non-naval ships to transport soldiers, tanks, airplanes, ammunition, fuel, and food rations to aid soldiers on the front lines. Merchant mariners also experienced some of the earliest action of the war due to German submarines attacking British merchant ships in the Atlantic, disrupting supply chains to American allies.
Yet somehow, these mariners were not even provided veteran status until 1988, nearly 40 years after the war ended.
Read: American Merchant Mariners for the Gold!
In 2020, former President Donald Trump signed into law the bipartisan Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, which was unanimously passed by Congress. Although technically the Gold Medal was granted with the signing of the bill into law, the official award had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The bravery demonstrated by the U.S. Merchant Mariners to keep Allied Forces supplied during World War II is second to none,” said Dru DiMattia, President of the American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV). “In the face of targeted attacks by German submarines and U-boats, the unarmed Merchant Mariners met the moment with resilience and courage, and serve as an inspiration for all of American Maritime.”
Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) led the bill in the House of Representatives, along with Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Susan Brooks (R-IN) as cosponsors. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the bill in the Senate initially in January 2019, along with Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Angus King (I-ME), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) as original cosponsors. The bill went on to gain a total of 73 cosponsors in the Senate.
A video of the award ceremony is below:
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