Many people do not realize that before World War II had ended, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised merchant sailors official recognition as veterans. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to keep his word. Luckily, merchant marine veterans finally received their much-deserved veteran status decades later, in 1988.
Merchant marine veterans more than deserve the status bestowed upon them in the 1980s. These men helped power the Allied war machine by delivering the necessary equipment to keep the fight against the Nazis going. These brave men – many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice – have served their country with dignity. That’s why we at Out2Sea.com wanted to honor their legacy with this blog post!
Merchant marine veterans and the ultimate sacrifice
Eventual victory in the war came at an extraordinary cost for the U.S. merchant marine. Merchant marine veterans know all too well the extraordinary casualty rate suffered by sailors during World War II. 1 in 25 men who put out to sea never came home – a rate far higher than the four other branches of the military (Marines, Army, Coast Guard, Navy).
The early days of the war proved the most challenging for the U.S. Navy as well as the merchant marine, as the U.S. was still building up its military might. 1942 saw a great many merchant marine ships sunk by U-boats. Eventually, as the U.S. gained naval strength, more and more ships began traveling in convoys. Merchant mariners defended their vessels from attack in many cases, as the military started arming ships with machine guns and limited artillery.
By the time Germany surrendered in May of 1945, 8,300 mariners had perished at sea in the line of duty, while another 12,000 were wounded.
Keeping up the fight
World War II was long and grueling enough. And chances are it could have been much longer without the contributions of the U.S. merchant marine. During the war, it took 7-15 tons of supplies to keep one soldier in the fight. And the level of military operations the Allies could undertake depended directly on the availability of merchant shipping.
Luckily, the U.S. merchant marine came through in a big way. Merchant marine veterans braved the threat of German ships and U-boat torpedoes in addition to all the other risks associated with shipping out. As the Allies fought the Germans for control of shipping routes in the Battle of the Atlantic, the merchant marine was crisscrossing the ocean, keeping vital supply lines going. Throughout the war, merchant ships carried ammunition, medical supplies, tactical gear and food for the soldiers at the front.
However, later in the war, they played an even greater role, transporting the soldiers who would storm the beach at Normandy. After the war had ended, merchant marine ships carried the victorious soldiers back home for a hero’s welcome.
So many merchant marine veterans ended up making the ultimate sacrifice. But their invaluable contributions helped liberate the world from the threat of fascism.
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