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Merchant Marine veterans in the news

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  • Pacific Merchant Marine Council, NLUS
    Ahoy Members and Friends, Always enjoy serching the web for Merchant Marine news. This week seems to be an emphasis on our World War II veterans. How about
    Message 1 of 4 , Jul 19, 2009
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      Ahoy Members and Friends,
      Always enjoy serching the web for Merchant Marine news. This week seems to be an emphasis on our World War II veterans.
      How about this first article with a fine photo in the O'BRIEN's engine room?
      Other interesting reading below.
      Anchors Aweigh,
      PS Circle Monday September 21 for our 3rd quarter luncheon - back on board the O'BRIEN but not in the engine room. We will hold the cost at $20 per person - with advance reservations. Firming up an interesting program.

      Merchant Marine had role in WWII too

      Courtesy Photo
      HIDDEN HEROES: Duncan Bergeron, who was a Merchant Marine right before World War II ended, stands inside the boiler room of a Liberty ship in San Francisco that’s a national historic monument. Bergeron, of San Jacinto, worked in the boiler rooms of Liberty ships like this one when he was a mariner.

      By LYNN WEBB/The Valley Chronicle
      Published: Friday, July 17, 2009 1:35 PM CDT
      Duncan Bergeron of San Jacinto thinks the Merchant Marine is too often forgotten.

      Bergeron, who served in the Merchant Marine for more than six years, said he got upset when he found out that the monuments in San Jacinto’s Druding Park representing each of the branches of the U.S. military did not include one for the Merchant Marine.

      The Merchant Marine is a fleet of civilian-owned ships responsible for transporting cargo and passengers during peace time. In time of war, as the Wikipedia states, the Merchant Marine is an auxiliary to the Navy and can be called upon to deliver troops and supplies for the military.

      The Merchant Marine was a “quasi” operation of the military during World War II, Bergeron said.

      Because the Merchant Marine wasn’t considered a branch of the service, mariners after the war  were denied benefits; unemployment pay; education, home or small business loans; priority for postwar jobs; and medical care for disabilities.

      “After the war, other branches of the service got first choice for jobs, medical benefits, but we had no medical benefits, no jobs,” Bergeron said.

      Bergeron served in the Merchant Marine toward the end of World War II  — 1945 — until 1951.

       “We carried all the cargo — trucks, tanks, Jeeps, steam engines for trains, ammunition, supplies, and the troops, and hauled it into the port,” Bergeron said.

      “We made trip after trip. One trip, we carried grain, fruits, canned goods, and surplus military spinach on a C2 ship.”

      Each trip would take between three and six months, depending on where supplies needed to be delivered, Bergeron said.

      In 1967, Bergeron had a hankering to go back to the sea after he heard mariners were need to transport cargo to Vietnam at Christmastime.

      Their first stop was Cameroon Bay to deliver river boats. Then they went down the Saigon River to discharge air cargo and back-loaded other cargo to Da Nang.

      On Christmas Day, evangelist Billy Graham happened to be speaking at a U.S. Marine base in Da Nang.

      Bergeron was able to go hear him speak.

      “I spent Christmas with 5,000 Marines and heard Bill Graham,” he said.

      Bergeron wanted to serve his country because he had two brothers who did.

      One brother served as an Army paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, and the other one served in the Navy.

      Because of his young age, Bergeron joined the Merchant Marine.

       “The Merchant Marines took you at age 16 with parental consent. The other branches were 17 with parental consent,” said Bergeron.

      Actually, at 15 1/2 years old, Bergeron didn’t meet the age requirement for the Merchant Marine.

      “I forged my baptismal certificate, and my dad signed me. He was glad to get rid of me!”

      Bergeron worked in the fire room, or boiler room, which makes the steam that runs the generators.

      Sometimes, it got unbearably hot in the boiler room, said Bergeron, where temperatures could reach 135 degrees.

      Bergeron also was an oiler.

      Marine oilers keep the vessel in proper running order in the engine spaces below decks, including lubricating gears, shafts, bearings, and other moving parts of engines and motors. They also read pressure and temperature gauges, record data, and assist with repairs and adjust machinery.

      At that time, armed forces were segregated, but the Merchant Marine was not.

      “We were the only integrated service,” Bergeron said. “We had whites, blacks, Chinese, and Filipinos.”

      Bergeron, who is 80, said his experience in the Merchant Marine was a adventure.

      “To me, it was an exciting adventure.”

      One thing he never saw was war.

       “I never saw an enemy ship, that I could see, and I never fought,” Bergeron said, “because by the time I joined, the war was almost over.”

      But a lot of those who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II weren’t as lucky.

      During World War II, mariners were subject to attack by submarine, surface radar, mines, bombers, kamikaze, and land-based artillery. The official Merchant Marine Web site states it suffered the highest casualty rate of any service during World War II, with 1 in 26 killed.

      “Up to the mid-1940s, they really got nailed,” Bergeron said, adding: “For me, it was a cakewalk.”

      In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill granting veteran status to merchant mariners who served in war. Before, they were considered civilians and did not receive the veterans benefits given to members of the armed forces.

      “For veteran status, you get a flag for $10 and you can get buried in a national or military cemetery,” Bergeron said. “I never bothered applying for it. I want to be cremated and my ashes taken to Oregon.”

      Bergeron said if the Merchant Marine wasn’t around during World War II, vital equipment would not have gotten to where it needed to be.

      “If they didn’t have the Merchant Marine, we wouldn’t have won the war,” he said.

      And here in the Napa Valley:

      An artist's rendering of the coming Calistoga Veterans Memorial, to be dedicated Nov. 11. Construction could begin in less than a month.

      Veterans ready to build Logvy Park memorial
      Uphill battle ends, groundbreaking at noon Monday
      Wednesday, July 15, 2009

      Monday will mark the end of an 11-year-struggle by Calistoga’s veterans to build a memorial to all of America’s veterans, living and dead.

      The veterans are inviting the community to a ceremonial groundbreaking event at noon Monday to celebrate the beginning of a project that has taken the vets’ efforts for 10 years — through four different city councils.

      “The efforts to build a memorial to veterans started in June 1999 while Mario Calligari was mayor,” said veteran Jim Barnes recently. “So, it’s been through the Calligari administration, two Alexander administrations and now the second Gingles administration.”

      The building of a memorial was finally approved for Logvy Park during the second term of Dr. Andrew Alexander, who has since moved to Washington state.

      The memorial park will be located just to the south of the entrance to Logvy Park, “along where the third base line is today,” Barnes said.

      It will consist of six marble covered columns with an emblem representing each of the six branches of service — the United States Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard and the branch Barnes said many consider surprising, “the Merchant Marines.”

      “Many people don’t realize it, but the Merchant Marines sustained heavier losses than just about any other branch of military service during World War I,” he said. “They would travel in packs on the oceans with no military escorts, and were just sitting ducks for the German attack.”

      The memorial also will be home to about 200 bricks, about 10 percent of which will be inscribed with the names of veterans who have served the nation.

      Barnes said anyone who would like to dedicate a brick to a veteran may still do so. The 8-inch, by 8-inch ceramic bricks may be inscribed for $135, for now. After the August the price goes up to $165 because the veterans’ group will lose their bulk engraving discount.

      For additional information regarding the bricks or the memorial, contact Barnes, 942-2241 or American Legion Commander Paul Coats, 942-5268.

      An official dedication ceremony for the new memorial is slated for Nov. 11, appropriately, on Veteran’s Day.


      Back east:
      Merchant Marine vets share memories
      By ERIC SLAGLE , Daily News Staff Writer

      Frank Knezovich, left, of Elizabeth, and George Bucy, of Forward Township, share memories during the annual Merchant Marines veterans picnic at West Mifflin Community Park. (Jennifer R. Vertullo)
      It was a beautiful day for a picnic.

      Members of the Mon Valley Chapter of the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans had plenty of sunshine Thursday for their annual gathering in West Mifflin Community Park. As always, there were plenty of old memories to go around along with the snacks, cold drinks and music.

      "I had five different ships. One sunk. That was coming out of Russia in '44," George Bucy, 87, of Forward Township, recalled of the day his liberty ship was sunk by Germans off the coast of Greece, leaving him and his crew mates to escape by lifeboat. "I can remember because my pay stopped the same day."

      The abrupt loss of income was but one example of the difficulties Merchant Marines underwent during and after World War II because of their status as sailors on civilian, rather than military, owned merchant ships. Though Merchant Marines were considered military personnel (and they certainly saw plenty of military action during the war) they were not recognized by the U.S. government as veterans until 1988.

      There's been talk in the U.S. Senate for years of making Merchant Marines eligible for federal veteran benefits of $1,000 per month, but the bill that would do that has never made it out of committee.

      The slight by the government is still a lively topic of conversation among Merchant Marines.

      "Give them the general right to see that they're classified as veterans during the time of armed conflict," said member Bill Joyce of Munhall. Joyce brought with him to the picnic a stack of governmental statistics that he contends help prove the old sailors deserve greater recognition from the government.

    • Pacific Merchant Marine Council, NLUS
      ... From: capt.ob@comcast.net To: PMMC-NLUS@yahoogroups.com Sent: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 2:45 PM Subject: Re: [PMMC-NLUS] Merchant Marine veterans in the news
      Message 2 of 4 , Jul 21, 2009
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        ----- Original Message -----
        Sent: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 2:45 PM
        Subject: Re: [PMMC-NLUS] Merchant Marine veterans in the news

        Dear Brother & shipmate,

        It was good to read about your experiences at sea....a couple of corrections:

        1.Cam Rahn Bay instead of Cameroon Bay
        2. Veterans are entitled to a FREE FLAG for their memorial, whether cremated or not.The Flag is usually presented to the widow by the branch(Navy, Army,Merchant Marine) in which the veteran served. If no widow, the daughter, son or next of kin.
        Most funeral directors provide the flag, if requested, otherwise your local post office will provide the flag gratis, if proper documentation of service(DD-214) is provided.
        3. I have performed some 60 Memorial services in my life...Am doing one tomorrow....buried 5 men and 2 women at sea also.
        4. During WW II the Merchant Marine (usually Dept of Commerce) and the US Coast Guard (usually Dept of Treasury) were BOTH transferred to the Department of NAVY.  Later, after the war , the Merchant Marine and Coast Guard WERE BOTH TRANSFERRED to the Department of Transportation. After 911 the Coast Guard was transferred to Department of Homeland Security, and will never be subordinate to the Dept of Navy again.

        The Highest Military Officer that the Merchant Marine is under, is a 4 star General in the US Air Force, at Scott Air Force Base in St.Louis. This man is always Air Force and commands TRANSCOM, which includes all airplanes and ships in the private sector. Many steamship companies receive about 1 million dollars a year subsidy for each of their ships that are "on call."
        The CINC (Commander in Theater, 4 star, Navy, Marine,Army or Air Force) requests transportation assets from TRANSCOM...the order for merchant ships (e.g. ammo) is forwarded to Dept of Navy, from Transcom, down the chain to MCS (Military Sealift Command) down the chain to MARAD (Maritime Administration) down to the private Steamship Co that is ordered to crew up and sail. The steamship co (e.g. APL) has the fiduciary responsibility to victual and call the hall, and be ready to sail in X number of hours.Some of these ships are RRF (Ready reserve Fleet) with a skeleton crew aboard....Some are loaded as we speak, full and down with beans, bullets and bombs, at Diego Garcia, Guam, and the Med and East Coast.
        I have visited Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. One of the largest ammo stores in the world, and the longest airplane runway  in the world.I have served as Chief Mate in several reserve ships.....In the Deck Dept. there is Only a Chief Mate,  Bosn and one Ordinary Seaman are in these ship on standby.
        Hope this is enlightening and interesting.

        Captain K.C. O'Brien, USMM (Ret)
        Life Alum, Naval War College
      • John Denham
        Phelps: I note an inaccuracy in K.C. OBrien s piece. By definiton the Merchant Marine is not a unit or service, but a business and therefore not transferable.
        Message 3 of 4 , Jul 21, 2009
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          Phelps: I note an inaccuracy in K.C. OBrien's piece. By definiton the Merchant Marine is not a unit or service, but a business and therefore not transferable. Some have referred to it as the "merchant service." Control and wartime,/emergency acquisiton is feasible. The M.M. is not an  academic or has any heraldry signifiance, but has been a popular, but as yet not recognized, indicator of Master Mariner. Refer" A CAPTAIN BY ANY OTHER NAME"   Vox Oceanus, Pacific Maritime Magazine July 2008.JGD
        • capt.ob@comcast.net
          The Merchant Marine represents the civilian shipping flying that country s flag. I repeat: In time of war, the US Merchant Marine (American flag vessels) are
          Message 4 of 4 , Jul 24, 2009
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            The Merchant Marine represents the civilian shipping flying that country's flag.

            I repeat: In time of war, the US Merchant Marine (American flag vessels) are under the Department of Navy, which answers to TRANSCOM at Scott Air Force Base.If one sails in an American Flag Merchant Vessel, he or she is an American Merchant Mariner, sailing in the   United States Merchant Marine.

            The United States Maritime Service, or USMS is under MARAD. Officers like Adms. Tom Patterson, George Jahn,and Frank X. Johnston  received their Commissions from this Enity. I have several United States Maritime Service Commissions in my office beside me that I would be willing to share with anyone one disputes this. They state that the Merchant Marine Officer named is hereby commissioned a Lt. Cdr in the US Maritime Service.

            Reference: United States Naval War College.

            Captain K.C. O'Brien, United States Merchant Marine(ret MMP)
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