When Gordon Buchi was just 15 years old, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A sophomore at Salt Lake City’s West High, Gordon knew one thing – he had to get into the war and do everything he could to fight for his country and defeat an enemy that threatened the entire world. He was too young to enlist in the regular armed forces, but after months of begging, his parents finally let him join the Merchant Marine.
On February 7, 1942, the US government created The War Shipping Administration, part of The Merchant Marine (established before the Revolutionary War), providing the link between the war effort at home and those who faced the enemy on the battlefields of the Pacific and Europe.
Compared to the large number of men and women serving in World War II, the numbers of the Merchant Mariners was small, but their chance of dying during service was extremely high. By the end of the war in August 1945, enemy forces sank more than 800 ships. More than 8600 Merchant Seamen were dead or missing, and 581 were prisoners of war. The casualty rate in the Merchant Marine was 1 in 26, proportionately more than all other US armed services COMBINED.
Gordon served for 35 months, and luckily he survived. He is now almost 85 years old and lives in Salt Lake City. There are only about 10,000 Merchant Mariners alive today.
The Merchant Marine has not seen the benefits enjoyed by other veterans. Although it was the wish of President Roosevelt, he died before he could make their veteran status in the armed forces reality. Since World War II, one piece of legislation has passed Congress that gave a limited benefit package. Mariners got a watered down GI bill and have not been allowed care at Veteran’s Hospitals. With surviving members now approaching age 90, they could use our help.
In January 2011, HR23, sponsored by Representative Bob Filner-D, California, asks that members of the Merchant Marine receive veteran recognition for Social Security benefits as well as compensation they missed. The “Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2011” would pay each eligible member $1,000 a month that would go to a surviving spouse. That’s a small price for the glue that held the world together. Ask your congressional delegation to support HR23 and S663 – they’ve been waiting far too long.
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Source: Gordon Buchi, the American Merchant Marine Veterans, the United States Merchant Marine at War, US House of Representatives