Hello – My name is John Pitts. On Monday, July 1, 2019, the two year term of office as President of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, Inc. became effective. First and foremost, I would like to thank most recent Past President Captain Chris Edyvean for his successful efforts in advancing the goals and mission of the AMMV during his two terms over the last four years. Fair Winds & Following Seas on you new adventures!
Of the many issues involving the US Merchant Marine veterans of WWII, as well as those US Merchant Marine Veterans who have not been recognized as such by Congress at this time, the most noteworthy is H. R. 550, the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act.
American Merchant Marine Veterans of WWII have progressed further than a with any of the several previous attempts to garner recognition for American Merchant Marine Veterans of WWII. This legislation (H. R. 550) was introduced by Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) and secured the minimum 290 cosponsors necessary to receive a mandatory vote in the House of Representatives. If voted into law, H. R. 550 would provide for the award of a Congressional Gold medal, COLLECTIVELY, to the United States Merchant Mariners of WWII, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during WWII.
When passed in the House of Representatives, the bill would be forwarded for passage in the Senate as S.133. The Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act was introduced in the Senate simultaneously by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Susan Brooks (R-IN) are the original cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
In addition to H. R. 550, another Bill, Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2019, H.R. 154 was introduced into this 116th Congress. January 3, 2019 by Representative Al Green (D TX) which is designed to provide 1 payment of $25,000 to eligible American Merchant Mariners who provide a DD-214 for service in the USMM between December 7, 1941 and December 31, 1946, and who have not received benefits under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944.
While the progress of H.R. 550 is welcome and impressive, the fight is not over. S. 133 needs to have the required number of Senators before it can be voted on in the Senate. Please contact your Senators and call for them to cosponsor S. 133. Also, please thank your Congressperson if they cosponsored H. R. 550.
Thank you for your time and interest in the American Merchant Marine Veterans. You can reach our website at: ammv.us.
President, AMMV, Inc
H.R. 550: WWII Merchant Mariner Congressional Gold Medal Act will pass the U.S. House of Representatives. Lead sponsor Rep. Garamendi has an official press release:
WASHINGTON, DC- Today, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, Davis, Yuba City), announced that his bipartisan Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019 has secured the 290 cosponsors necessary to receive a mandatory vote in the House of Representatives. The bill will move to the Consensus Calendar, which hosts legislation that’s typically passed unanimously by the House.
“Throughout the Second World War, our armed forces relied on the Merchant Marine to ferry supplies, cargo and personnel into both theaters of operation, and they paid a heavy price in service to their country,” said Garamendi. “The Merchant Marine suffered the highest per capita casualty rate in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. An estimated 8,300 mariners lost their lives, and another 12,000 were wounded, to make sure our service members could keep fighting. Yet, these Mariners who put their lives on the line were not even given veteran status until 1988.”
“Last year, I got the chance to meet with three World War II Merchant Mariners: Charles Mills of Texas, age 97; Eugene Barner from Kansas, age 92; and Robert Weagant from Illinois, age 92,” Garamendi continued. “These mariners put their lives on the line for this country, braving German and Japanese submarines in their Liberty Ships as they delivered critical supplies to our servicemembers in the European and Pacific theaters. Unfortunately, their sacrifice is commonly overlooked. A Congressional Gold Medal would give them the recognition they deserve, and that’s why I’ve introduced this bill: to give these veterans and their families the honor and respect they are owed. I’m pleased that this bill will receive a vote in the full House of Representatives and is in an excellent position to become law,” Garamendi concluded.
“The time has come for our nation to provide a well-deserved thank you and honor the remaining Merchant Marine Veterans of WWII with a Congressional Gold Medal. This group of unsung heroes nobly served our country by operating the ships that transported critical supplies to front lines of the war, and in doing so suffered a casualty rate higher than any other branch of the military. In fact, one out of every 26 casualties during WWII was a volunteer Merchant Mariner. America would not be the great nation it is today without their valiant service of yesterday. I urge Congress to support this important bill and recognize this dwindling group of Merchant Marine Veterans from WWII that have served our nation so admirably,” said Christian Yuhas, Vice President of American Merchant Marine Veterans and a Chief Engineer Merchant Marine.
The Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act was introduced in the Senate simultaneously by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Susan Brooks (R-IN) are the original cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
Click HERE to visit Rep. Garamendi’s website.
The 2019 “Storm the Hill” was led by WWII Merchant Marine Veteran & AMMV Government Affairs Co-Chair Charles A. Mills, with Eugene Barner and Gerard Driscoll being the other Vets on the team. Sheila M. Sova returned to serve as the Team Coordinator. The group was rounded off with Laura Johnson Riddle, Cindy Driscoll-Komlos, and AMMV D.A.R. Chapter President Dennis Ng; all are children of WWII U.S. Merchant Mariners. This 2019 Storm the Hill was once again sponsored by the Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies (MITAGS) and the International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots (IOMPP), who graciously provided room & board and travel to/from D.C.
In previous years, the team concentrated on meeting with the Congresspersons and Senators in person. What was learned is that the real decision makes are the staffers, behind the scenes. The politicians were usually short on time, opting for photos rather than meaningful discussion.
This year the STH team was armed with a letter from the American maritime industry in support of the WWII Merchant Mariner Congressional Gold Medal legislation H.R. 550 & S.133. The letter has been signed by over 100 maritime and affiliate groups from all over the country. Copies were provided to all the offices visited by the team.
Note: Each of the Veterans were wearing a faux Gold Medal as a symbol to Congress that WWII Merchant Mariners deserve the recognition that would be bestowed upon them with passage of the legislation.
On Monday, May 20th, the Senate Hart Building was the destination. The goal was to target Senators who cosponsored WWII MM Congressional Gold Medal legislation in the 115th Congress (previously S. 2127), and those Senators with seats on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Additional Senate offices were also visited as time permitted. In total, the following offices were visited and/or had materials dropped off: Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) (S. 133 Sponsor); Senator Tim Scott (SC); Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD); Senator Elizabeth Warren (CA); Senator Jon Tester (MT); Senator Mike Rounds (SD); Senator Kyrsten Sinema (AZ); Senator Doug Jones (AL); Senator Diane Feinstein (CA); Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH); Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (NV); Senator Robert Menendez (NJ); Senator Tammy Duckworth (IL); Senator Mark Warner (VA); Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT); Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI); Senator Tina Smith (MN); Senator Brian Schatz (HI); Senator Gary Peters (MI); Senator Jack Reed (RI); Senator Dick Durbin (IL); Senator Tom Udall (MN); Senator Jeff Merkley (OR); Senator Steve Daines (MT).
Two meetings were scheduled on Tuesday, May 21st. The first was with Congressman Steve Scalise (LA) in his office at the U.S. Capitol. (AMMV member Captain Ron Campana arranged this meeting.) A short meeting with Congressman Scalise and photo opportunity took place while our Veterans explained the discrimination that the USMM had to endure in WWII. Secondly, a meeting was held in the Russell Senate Building at the office of Senator Lindsey Graham (SC), in which the group met with the Senator’s Deputy Military Legislative Assistant, Aaron M. Strickland.
While at this location, the team took advantage of visiting the offices of Senators who are members of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, which is holding S.133. Stops included the offices of Senator Shelley Moore Capito (WV); Senator Richard Burr (NC); Senator Christopher Coons (DE); and Senator Deb Fisher (NE).
That evening, the three WWII Veterans were invited by Retired Rear Admiral Wendi Carpenter, Executive Director of Captain Richard Phillips – Lane Kirkland Maritime Trust, to a special fundraising dinner at The Kimpton George Hotel in D.C. Present were special guests Captain Richard Philips and Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL).
On National Maritime Day (Wednesday, May 22nd) the STH gang attended the annual ceremony held at the U.S. Department of Transportation building. Following the ceremony, they were guests at a luncheon hosted by the Kings Point Alumni Group of D.C. Dave Gardy of Maritime TV interviewed all members of the team. Click HERE to access these interviews.
An event jointly sponsored by the American Maritime Congress and the U.S. Navy League was held in the Rayburn Building. Author William Geroux was featured, who had just released his second book about the WWII Merchant Marine, titled “The Ghost Ships of Archangel”. In attendance were H.R. 550 sponsors Rep. John Garamendi (CA) and Rep. Don Young (AK). This particular function proved to be very important to our cause as several other Congresspersons attended, and the U.S. Navy League presented each with a USMM plaque intended for display in their offices. For more info on The Ghost Ships of Archangel, visit: www.williamgeroux.com.
While still at Rayburn, the group visited other Congresspersons. This included a meeting with Rep. Lee Zeldin (NY), which was arranged by Rita Cosby; they also met with the staffer of H.R. 154 sponsor Rep. Al Green (TX) to discuss why the compensation bill is not moving forward. The reasoning and purpose of the H.R. 154 were explained in greater detail by members of our group.
The Rayburn Building was visited again on Thursday, May 23rd. The following offices were strategically targeted with the goal of educating about how the USMM of WWII were never segregated and included many women mariners. Office visited included: Rep. Maxine Waters (CA), Chairperson of the House Financial Services Committee which holds H.R. 550; Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Rep. Karen Bass (CA), Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Michael McCaul (TX); Rep. Rob Wittman (VA); Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ); Rep. Jim Jordan (OH); Rep. Mo Brooks (AL); Rep. Yvette Clarke (NY); Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (GA); Rep. David McKinley (WV); and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX).
Note: Points of discussion during these visits included the stories of Clara Gordon Main (first American female POW) and Carmen Quinonez, torpedoed from the SS Jacinto. Both women were from New York; Quinonez was a Hispanic.
On Friday, May 24th, the group received a private tour of the nuclear ship Savannah. The ship is docked near the SS John W. Brown and is now being maintained by MARAD. However, if a new owner is not found in the distant future, the ship could be scrapped. The Savannah features a 1960’s themed interior.
Click HERE to view all photos from the 2019 Storm the Hill week.
Click HERE to contact your Congressperson & Senators to support the WWII Merchant Mariner Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019.
In advance of National Maritime Day and AMMV’s “Storm the Hill” efforts, the American maritime industry has united to sign a letter urging Congress to pass the WWII Merchant Mariners Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019 (H.R. 550 & S. 133).
Over 100 maritime or affiliated groups have signed the letter, including private companies, partnerships, unions, non-profits groups, schools, etc. AMMV recommends including a copy of the letter when contacting your Senators or Congressperson via email or “snail mail”. It is also recommended to include the letter when addressing the committees holding each version of the bill.
Below are two versions of the letter. Use the “Senate” version when contacting your Senators or the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which currently is holding S. 133. Likewise, use the “House” letter when contacting your Congressperson or the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, which is holding H.R. 550.
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
534 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee
2129 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Click HERE to download the “Senate” (S. 133) American maritime industry support letter
Click HERE to download the “House” (H.R. 550) American maritime industry support letter
Here is a trailer of our 2019 AMMV National Convention
The 33rd National Convention of the American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV) organization opened with early Registration on Wednesday, March 20th. The Registration team was led by Kimberly King with Lynn Kelly and Sindy Raymond assisting. The Hospitality Room was once again generously stocked with drinks and snacks. In addition, Shirley Knight provided a variety of Easter candies.
Many other items and treats were featured. Special challenge coins to commemorate the 33rd Convention, in conjunction with the SS American Victory Salute to Service cruise, were provided to all WWII Vets and VIP’s. AMMV calendars were given to all paid registrants, and promotional drink cups to support the WWII Merchant Mariner Congressional Gold Medal Act (H.R. 550 & S. 133) were available for all. Form letters in support of H.R. 550, addressed to the committee holding the bill, were signed by all hands. All attendees received a “goodie bag”. Through no fault of our own, the shipment of the Commemorative Magazines was not received in time. Copies were later mailed to all attendees and paid advertisers.
One notable surprise was courtesy of AMMV member Thomas Glenn Hill, who provided color posters of vessels for each of our WWII Merchant Mariner attendees. These were individually presented by Sheila Sova, who had done the research to pair mariners with their respective vessels. Hill’s late father served in the WWII Merchant Marine.
The annual Board of Directors meeting was held on Thursday morning. Topics discussed included our 501 (c) nonprofit status; membership concerns; timeline and importance our C/MSRB Veteran status application for Korean Conflict U.S. Merchant Mariners; location of the 2020 AMMV convention; and financials. The proposed budget was approved after being amended to include $4,000 for advertising in the quarterly Kings Point (USMMA) alumni magazine.
Opening Ceremonies commenced after lunch, which included a prayer by AMMV Chaplain & Regional VP Bob Ross, and the performance of Star-Spangled Banner and Heave Ho by Sally Langwah. Capt. Christopher Edyvean followed with a President’s Report. Key topics included membership concerns; social media & website report; the need for more key volunteers; and WWII Merchant Mariner legislation.
Father Sinclair Oubre from the Apostleship of the Sea – USA provided a progress update on efforts to see Brother Marinus (Capt. LaRue of SS Meredith Victory) elevated to the level of Sainthood.
Later that evening, approximately 70 convention guests enjoyed a dinner cruise on the yacht Starship II in Tampa harbor. Convention Chairman Capt. Dru DiMattia arranged for big band era music to be played in the background. After dinner, Sally Langwah sang Happy Birthday to AMMV Executive Vice President Christian Yuhas.
Friday morning opened with WWII Merchant Marine Veteran and world-class speaker Dave Yoho appearing for his fourth straight convention. Mr. Yoho dazzled the crowd with another inspiring speech, the theme of which was “Why can’t they hear what we are saying?”
Following a coffee break, Past-National President Morris Harvey was surprised with a Board of Directors proclamation bestowing upon him the title of President Emeritus. A framed certificate and a special ballcap (provided by Bob Ross) were presented to Morris.
AMMV President-Elect John Pitts paid tribute to WWII U.S. Merchant Marine Veteran & AMMV member Capt. Arthur Moore, sole researcher and author of “A Careless Word, A Needless Sinking”, the detailed chronology of U.S. maritime ships and lives lost during involvement in WWII. Capt. Moore crossed the bar in late 2018. (Pitts also served as Master of Ceremonies throughout the convention.)
Toni Horodysky, creator of the usmm.org website, took the podium next and talked about her website. She highlighted some interesting historical finds while performing research.
After lunch break, AMMV Webmaster Bonnie Dye joined the group to discuss ammv.us. She answered various questions related to the website.
Christian Yuhas introduced three Resolutions which originated from the Golden Gate Chapter. After some minor tweaks, each of these Resolutions was approved by the membership.
NOAA representatives David Alberg and Tane Casserley played a short DVD of which included footage from interviews conducted with our WWII Merchant Mariners at the 2018 National Convention. This film is part of ongoing efforts toward east coast sanctuary expansion.
Later that evening, the Patriotic Dinner opened with the Sea Scouts Ship 106 presenting the Colors. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited, then Sally Langwah sang Heave Ho. Following the serving of the dinner, gCaptain Founder Capt. John Konrad delivered an emotional speech which is on par with AMMV’s goals and vision for the future. The AMMV Awards Ceremony followed. Recipients were as follows (not all in attendance): “Member Appreciation” plaques: Scarlett Rose, Christian Yuhas, Capt. Scott Nowak, Stanley Blumenthal, Clearance Newcomer, Charles Mills, and E. Douglass Pushard; “Outstanding Volunteer” plaques: Sindy Raymond, John Pitts, Laura Johnson Riddle, Janet Wilzbach, Michael Helbig, Lynn Kelly, Sheila Sova, and Dave Yoho. Capt. Chris also presented Mr. Yoho with a copy of A Careless Word, A Needless Sinking. Top tier award winners (Harvey-Wichita Award) were Capt. Dru DiMattia (AMMV Person of the Year), and Toni Horodysky (Lifetime Achievement). Finally, John Pitts surprised Capt. Chris with a Chelsea clock on behalf of the AMMV membership as appreciation for four years of organizational leadership.
Next, the 50/50 raffle was drawn ($242 prize) with winner being Sandra Barth. Several consolation prizes were raffled off, including items provided by the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Dave Yoho followed with encouraging closing remarks and presented a large donation to the organization.
Entertainer Tomaczek Bednarek performed God Bless America. Sally & Roy then took the stage for a spectacular performance.
On Saturday morning, our group was bussed to the Florida Aquarium for a breakfast with guest speaker 3-time Emmy Award winner, famed TV news reporter, and Veterans advocate Rita Cosby. This event was held in the Mosaic Room, which overlooks the bow of the SS American Victory, creating a beautiful setting for the morning. U.S. Maritime Administrator Admiral Mark H. Buzby joined us and provided opening remarks. Rita told the story of her father’s experience as a Polish resistance fighter, who was taken as a POW and later rescued by U.S. troops. After her presentation, Rita declared to support legislative efforts for our WWII Merchant Mariners. She kindly allowed time for photo ops with our Veterans.
Our 33rd convention concluded with our gang being part of the SS American Victory Salute to Service cruise, which was attended by approximately 650 persons. The cruise included lunch by Mission BBQ and live entertainment. The weather was absolutely perfect for the day’s activities. During the cruise, Rita Cosby interviewed a couple of our Veterans, and later announced and identified each of our Vets by name over the PA system. This was a wonderful way to let the cruise participants be aware of our WWII MM Veterans. Footage of the cruise later appeared on local TV stations.
Early discussions indicate a return to MITAGS (Baltimore) for a 2020 convention. See you there!