102-year-old Charlie Mills of Pearland, TX, holds up the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol.
“[President Franklin D. Roosevelt] called their mission the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the ceremony.
World War II Merchant Mariners Honored with Congressional Gold Medal
In 2020, Congress passed the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act to recognize the merchant mariners for their courage and contributions during the war.
“In World War II, U.S. Merchant Mariners and their shipmates of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard sailed in harm’s way to deliver what was needed to prevail not only across the Atlantic and Pacific but through the Indian Ocean, and across the Arctic Circle,” Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer, Commander, Military Sealift Command stated at the ceremony. “This Gold Medal recognition acknowledges the strategic advantage American mariners brought to the fight in linking domestic production and the fighting forces overseas.”
World War II-era Merchant Mariners crewed the nation’s Liberty Ships, which were used to transport critical war-time vehicles, weapons equipment, ordinance, and supplies to the European and Pacific Theaters. Many of the Merchant Mariners who served during World War II never came home as their ships were sunk by enemy forces while traveling to their overseas destinations.
“The price of victory was extraordinary,” declared Wettlaufer. “Of the 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine who served our country during the war, 12,000 were wounded in action and over 9,000 perished at sea, including 142 cadets from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, New York, who were killed during the conflict. Their personal sacrifice was great and commitment to our nation’s freedom unparalleled.”
Dave Yoho(left), a World War II-era Merchant Mariner shaking hands with fellow Merchant Mariner 102-year-old Charlie Mills (right).
Dave Yoho, a 94-year-old World War II-era Merchant Mariner, spoke at the ceremony. Yoho said it was his role to speak at the ceremony for the Mariners of World War II who cannot speak for themselves.
“I’m speaking for 248,500 guys that are already dead,” he told those who attended the ceremony. “One out of 26 of us died, but thousands of us came home deprived of a part of our life.”
“That’s probably one of the least-understood missions that ever was accomplished in modern warfare,” he said of the merchant mariners’ role in supporting the U.S. military.
Yoho urged those in attendance to share the story of the World War II Merchant Marines so that future generations can learn from their sacrifices and dedication.
“And, so, when you’re with others, say to them of what we did; urge them to read about us and find out about us,” Yoho stated. “Greet us today if you can [and] then say to those, ‘we gave up our yesterdays for your better tomorrow’.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest expression of national appreciation which the U.S. Congress can bestow for distinguished achievements and contributions. Each medal honors a particular individual, institution, or event, according to the U.S. House of Representatives’ website.
Veterans Honored on Capitol Hill After Long Voyage for Recognition
From The American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV) Press Release
WASHINGTON —Today, the American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV) commended the 10 veterans of the U.S. Merchant Marine awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress. The veterans received the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol on behalf of the approximately 1,500 remaining Merchant Mariners of WWII.
Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, May 18th, 2022
“The bravery demonstrated by the U.S. Merchant Mariners to keep Allied Forces supplied during World War II is second to none,” said Dru DiMattia, President of the American Merchant Marine Veterans. “In the face of targeted attacks by German submarines and U-boats, the unarmed Merchant Mariners met the moment with resilience and courage, and serve as an inspiration for all of American Maritime.”
ABOUT THE WORLD WAR II MERCHANT MARINERS:
- There were 243,000 mariners that served in the war. 9,521 perished while serving – a higher proportion of those killed than any branch of the US military.
- Roughly four percent of those who served were killed, a higher casualty rate than that of any of the American military services during World War II.
- Merchant Mariners experienced some of the earliest action of the war due to German submarines attacking British merchant ships in the Atlantic, disrupting supply chains to America’s allies.
- These mariners were not provided veteran status until 1988.