Sheila Sova: Honor Merchant Marine in mural proposed for Grass Valley’s Memorial Park
Sheila M. Sova
My name is Sheila M. Sova and I volunteer for the American Merchant Marine Veterans organization. My job is to educate the public on the Forgotten Heroes of World War II. When they enlisted in the Merchant Marine they were told they would become veterans. President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to add them to the GI Bill. They supplied 97 percent of all ammunition, troops, food, bombs and mustard gas — all without any protection at the beginning of the war.
Later, they added the U.S. Navy Armed Guard. The Merchant Marine lost more men due to torpedo strikes, kamikaze attacks than any other military branch of service (one in 26 mariners killed and the second was the Marine Corps that lost one in 32). After FDR made this promise, he died suddenly and Congress let the bill die too.
Finally, after a lawsuit by a former U.S. Merchant Marine who was a POW in a Japanese camp sued the government, the hearing took place. Finally, in 1989, 43 years after the war ended, these men were given Combat Veteran Status. The American Legion accepts this, but the Veterans of Foreign Wars has not allowed them to join even though this is public law. They have been given Honorable Discharges from the U.S. Coast Guard and the War Shipping Administration, yet some believe still they considered “civilian veterans” like the “Rosie Riveters.” Yes, some of them did get civilian status if they did not leave the U.S. and never saw any combat. There are strict requirements and a time frame of eligibilty.
They received the GI bill even though they were now in their 60s, but for all these years they received no disability, no medical benefits and many paid for multiple surgeries after the war. I have met many men who were exposed to mustard gas. One survivor, Walter Broll, is featured in the World War II USMM Gallery at the World War II Museum. Over 1,000 men died in a nine-ship convoy while he left the ship to get into town in Bari, Italy, known as the Second Pearl Harbor.
No one learns this history and no once seems to care. They do not play their song at military functions, they do not get their flag or emblem at monuments. I personally got two monuments to raise and honor the U.S. Merchant Marine flag. This made grown men cry at our recent convention when they saw the monument in Chesterfield, Mo., including Water Broll with tears streaming down his face.
It is time that everyone recognize these men. You can assist us by signing a message to Congress and your Senate sponsored by the U.S. Navy League at http://cqrcengage.com/navyleague/app/onestep-write-a-letter?0&engagementId=53252
Section 401 of Public Law 95-202, The GI Bill Improvement Act. Mariners Schumacher, Willner, and Reid, sued the secretary of the Air Force, Edward C. Aldridge, Jr. [665 F. Supp. 41 (D.D.C. 1987)]. The judge ordered the board to reconsider their denial and the board granted veteran status to most World War II mariners on January 19, 1988.
Mariners who went to sea after August 15, 1945, serving in wartime in hazardous waters, got veteran status on November 11, 1998.
Please help us in this cause to recognize these men. For more information, visit http://www.usmm.org
Sheila M. Sova is a daughter of an Army Korea veteran and daughter of a World War II merchant marine. She lives in Glen Carbon, Ill. For more information, visit http://www.usmm.org
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