SEPTEMBER 16, 1948
EN ROUTE TO PARIS, Wednesday—I received a letter from the Merchant Marine Veterans of America, New York State Anchorage, Bronx, N.Y., which I want to share with my readers. The point of view is one that we should all understand so that we may avoid, if the occasion ever arises when we are forced into war again, the mistakes that we made in the past. Here is the letter, in part:
"It is ironical that the men who gave so much have been unable to acquaint the public with the true story. This organization of wartime merchant seamen—every member must sign an obligation that he is anti-Communist and subscribes to no ism but Americanism—is making an all-out fight to get the rights, benefits and privileges we feel we are entitled to for our war service aboard armed vessels of the U.S. War Shipping Administration. We were assigned gun stations, were subject to court martial, participated in every invasion, received medals and ribbons for heroic service. Now we are going to be drafted into a peacetime army.
"Our sick and injured shipmates are forced to apply to local relief agencies for the bare necessities of life while veterans of the Armed Forces (even though they never left the states) receive medical aid for life."
In their literature the merchant seamen have such slogans as:
"We delivered the goods, now we're left holding the bag." They furnish such information as follows:
"We volunteered our services. Many were too old and had physical disabilities. But we signed waivers that they would not hold the government responsible for this condition... A grateful government... heroism bravery under fire... but no rights and privileges and benefits.
Further on, the seamen write:
"The Merchant Marine Veterans of America, Inc., is a nonpolitical, nonsectarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to fight against Communism in the merchant marine. We will take no part in disputes between ship owners and seamen's unions. We have no paid positions. All members must be wartime seamen... We are proud of our war record: over 7,000 men lost and 1,700 ships. If we were slackers, as some people who do not know the facts think, this war might not have been won. The bridge of ships across the Atlantic was the deciding factor in our European Theatre."
They want the United States to build up our merchant marine, and not to transfer ships to other flags. They realize that there are not jobs for all the men who served in the merchant marine during the war, unless we become a great maritime nation, carrying our trade in our own bottoms.
The difficulty is that American seamen have better conditions than practically any others in the world, and that it is not always possible to run American ships profitably. This is a problem that should be talked over in a labor-management-government conference. Some of the bad feeling that has been engendered over this whole question might be wiped out by just and equitable settlements.