Storm the Hill Report
Details provided by STH team member/coordinator Sheila Sova
Sunday, May 20th:
This was the arrival date at our “home port” of MITAGS (Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies) in Linthicum Heights, MD. Our group held a dinner meeting to discuss the upcoming days and events. Our 2018 “Storm the Hill” participants included team leader Charles A. Mills of Texas (Lone Star Chapter); Eugene Barner of Kansas (Member-at-Large); Robert Weagant of Illinois (Midwest Chapter); Laura Johnson Riddle of Arizona (Member-at-Large); and myself – team coordinator Shelia Sova of Illinois (Member-at-Large).
Monday, May 21st:
Rally on the Capitol Grounds
In reaching the demonstration site, our group encountered some unexpected delays. This was the fault of the limo company for switching-out the type of vehicle at the last moment (without our knowledge or consent), which resulted in security issues.
All of our contacts were on station by the time we arrived. This included Dave Gardy from Maritime TV; a reporter from CBS-affiliate WUSA; a group of Unlicensed Apprentices from the SIU’s Paul Hall Center with their Commandant, Craig Guy; and Jordan Biscardo from the Seafarers Log. AMMV Member Larry Groves was also present and of great assistance.
Our permitted location for this rally was “Senate East Front Grassy – Area 9”, bound by the North Mezzanine sidewalk; Fifth Street, NE, Northeast Drive, and the East Front Plaza. Following our initial delay, the demonstration went as planned.
Later in the afternoon, we met with Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (sponsor of S. 2127: Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2017). Murkowski was kind enough to do a photo op with the group. Her staff said she would look into H.R. 154 to see what can be done (regarding the need of a companion bill). Contacts: (202) 224-8767 firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Twitter: @lisamurkowski
We also met with Fair Kim of the American Maritime Congress (AMC) and Sara Fuentes of the Navy League. (You may recall that AMC President James E. Caponiti was a speaker at our St. Louis convention; also, Fuentes is to be credited for setting up the e-letters to Congress in support of WWII Merchant Mariner legislation on the NLUS website.)
Tuesday, May 22nd:
National Maritime Day events
Our group received front row seats at the annual Department of Transportation National Maritime Day ceremony, which is an “invitation only” event. Many top leaders in maritime and military were present, including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao; U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) General Darren W. McDew; and United States Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby. Secretary Chao introduced our STH group members individually by name. Heave Ho was played near the end of the ceremony, with Administrator Buzby singing the lyrics.
Next, we were the guests of honor at an informal luncheon sponsored by the Kings Point Club of D.C. We made several contacts with the KP Alumni and hope that some will join AMMV. We wish to thank Laila Linares (USMMA ’06) for the invite!
We met with the staff of Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee of Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. This is the committee that is currently holding our Congressional Gold Medal bill (S. 2127).
Crapo’s staffers Bethany Carter and Sierra Robinson explained that a Senate bill needs 67 co-sponsors to push it out of committee. (This is what doomed the Gold Medal bill in the 114th Congress. H.R. 2992 passed in a special session under “suspension of the rules”, having 312 co-sponsors. The companion bill, S. 2989, only had 34 co-sponsors.) Crapo’s staffers feel that S. 2127 is within reach if we can rally our supporters to make enough noise with phone calls and letters to their Senators.
We also discussed the need for a companion Senate bill to H.R. 154, but were told budgetary concerns and projected costs are bound to turn away potential support.
Next, we dropped off pamphlets with Kansas Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts (team member Barner is a constituent), then delivered a photo to California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, of which her father is pictured with Charles Mills. Her staffer took down Charles’ telephone number. Contacts:
Senator Jerry Moran (202) 224-6521; Twitter: @JerryMoran
Senator Pat Roberts (202) 224-4774; Twitter: @SenPatRpberts
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (202) 225-4965; Twitter: @NancyPelosi
Wednesday, May 23rd:
On this morning, Rep. John Garamendi of California announced from the Floor the introduction of H.R. 5879. This is the House companion bill to S. 2127, the WWII Merchant Mariner Congressional Gold Medal Act. Rep. Garamendi’s staff was very friendly, and we thanked them for the introduction of this legislation. As soon as the bill was announced, the Congressman asked us for a photo op! We took this opportunity to present him with an AMMV challenge coin. He conveyed that of all the challenge coins he has received, this WWII USMM coin is the most meaningful. (Garamendi also signed on as a co-sponsor to H.R. 154.)
(Note: At our 2018 National Convention, AMMV resolved to support H.R. 1240: The Energizing American Maritime Act, introduced by Rep. Garamendi. If enacted, this would provide a boost for jobs in the U.S. Merchant Marine.)
Contacts: Emily Burns (Chief of Staff) 202-225-1880; Emily.Burns@mail.house.gov; Twitter: @RepGaramendi
The next meeting was with staffer Matt Rowland of Rep. Al Green’s office. Congressman Green is the sponsor of H.R. 154. (Note: H.R. 154 is identical to [former] Rep. Janice Hahn’s H.R. 563 in the 114th Congress.) Rowland was not familiar with H.R. 154 and didn’t offer much information. Charles expressed his disappointment that the bill had not received any attention. However, Rowland was very polite and said he would investigate to learn what official number of USMM WWII Vets are registered with the VA. Contacts: (202) 225-7508; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @RepAlGreen
Our group next stopped at the office of Illinois Congressman Mike Bost. Bost is the Chairman of the Subcommittee of Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, which currently holds H.R. 154. Staffer Noah Barger greeted us; also present on our behalf was American Maritime Officers (AMO) union National President Paul Doell. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Bost arrived and, being a huge history buff, chatted some WWII history with us. On the subject of the USMM of WWII, each of our Vets described some of the events that took place in the war, such as having to pay one’s way home when released from POW camps. Rep. Bost discussed CBO (Congressional Budget Office) costs in regards to H.R. 154. He suggested using VA numbers as well. Contacts: (202) 225-5661; email@example.com; Twitter: @RepBost
Our scheduled meeting with the Floor Director (Hugh Halpern) for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was essentially useless, as he was called away for a meeting in less than five minutes. Contacts: (202) 225-5550; (202) 225-0600; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SpeakerRyan
One of our more strategic meetings was with Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who serves as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Also present was staffer Ms. Dominque Wardell. Charles Mills spoke entirely, informing Rep. Richmond that the USMM was the only integrated branch of military at that time. When asking Richmond why no members of the CBC have cosponsored H.R. 154, his response was that Rep. Al Green never asked for this. Rep. Richmond advised that the CBC meets in two weeks and told Charles to wait until three weeks has elapsed because he guaranteed members of the CBC would be co-sponsoring the bill. Contacts: (202) 225-6636; email@example.com, Twitter: @RepRichmond
CBC Contacts: (202) 226-9776; Twitter: @OfficialCBC; website: https://cbc.house.gov/
Earlier, while the gang was waiting to see Rep. Richmond, I walked over to the office of Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner, who was expecting us. Just prior to the kick-off of Storm the Hill, the local St. Louis station KSDK (NBC-affiliate) featured a story on WWII MM Vet Robert Westrich. Rep. Wagner’s team expressed interest in our cause after viewing the story. Contacts: (202) 225-1621; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Twitter: @RepAnnWagner
(Note: KSDK aired another story on June 6th, totaling three stories within three months about the WWII Merchant Marine. News reporter Grant Bissel has been leading the efforts with these stories. Twitter: @gbisselKSDK)
Meetings for this day concluded with a visit to the office of Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina. Staffer Katherine Stewart was very interested and said she would speak with Rep Adams in support of H.R. 154 & H.R. 5879. Contacts: (202) 225-1510; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Twitter: @RepAdams
Later that evening, we were the guests of AMO President Paul Doell, who took us out for dinner at the Capitol Hill Club. This enabled us to briefly meet and/or pose for a photo with Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, Senator Tim Scott of Texas, and Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas. (With the exception of Rep. Shimkus, we were not able to ask these reps for sponsorship of our bills.) Contacts:
Rep. Trey Gowdy (202) 225-6030; Twitter: @TGowdySC
Rep. John Shimkus (202) 225-5271; Twitter: @RepShimkus
Senator Tim Scott (202) 224-6121; Twitter: @SenatorTimScott
Rep. John Ratcliffe (202) 225-6673; Twitter: @RepRatcliffe
Thursday, May 24th:
We began our activity with “Coffee with Senator John Cornyn” of Texas. Staffer Patrick Heiny was extremely respectful toward our group and (having served in the U.S. Marine Corps) expressed knowledge of the role of the U.S. Merchant Marine. The need for a companion bill for H.R. 154 was discussed, and we urged Senator Cornyn to co-sponsor S. 2127. Contacts: (202) 224-2934; Patrick_Heiny@cornyn.senate.gov; Twitter: @JohnCornyn
Heiny then allowed us to ride the underground tram system with him to travel to our next appointment, where we spotted Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who we had met with during 2017 Storm the Hill efforts. Fortunately, we were able to get a quick photo with him. We offered Blumenthal a challenge coin and informational pamphlet, asking for support of S. 2127. Contacts: (202) 224-2823; Twitter: @SenBlumenthal
Our next stop was the office of Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is a combat veteran of the Iraq War. With the Senator being on maternity leave, we spoke with staffer James Jarosz, asking for co-sponsorship of S. 2127 and a companion bill for H.R. 154. The projected number of 5,000 Merchant Mariners (as per language in the legislation text) that would be eligible for H.R. 154 again came up as a being a substantial obstacle to gaining co-sponsors and support. Jarosz seemed to recommend (as did most staffers) that this estimated number be reduced for the legislation to gain traction. Contacts: (202) 224-2854; James_Jarosz@duckworth.senate.gov; Twitter: @SenDuckworth
At the office of Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, we met with staffer (Legislative Correspondent) Micah Barbour. When asking for support of S. 2127 and a companion bill for H.R. 154, Barbour stressed the need for constituents to call their Congressperson and Senators and request that these bills be advanced out of committee. Contacts: (202) 224-2023; Micah_Barbour@warner.senate.gov; Twitter: @Mark Warner; @MarkWarnerVA
We next found ourselves at the office of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who we had briefly said hello to the previous night at the Capitol Hill Club. The Senator wasn’t present, but we spoke to his staffers and provided the rundown of S. 2127 & H.R. 154. Contacts: (202) 224-6121; Sherri_Pan@scott.senate.gov; Rick_Trimble@scott.senate.gov; Twitter: @SenatorTimScott
We visited the office of Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen with the same requests for support. Present were staffers Spencer Knoll and Steve Sucharski. Contacts: (202) 224-4654; Steve_Sucharski@vanhollen.senate.gov; Spencer_Knoll@vanhollen.senate.gov; Twitter: @VanHollenForMD
The Legislative Correspondent (Jacob Olidort) at the office of Utah Senator Orin Hatch was receptive but not aware of the WWII Merchant Marine Veteran. Contacts: (202) 224-5251; KeriLyn_Michalke@hatch.senate.gov; Twitter: @senorrinhatch; @jolidort
The next scheduled meeting was with Senator Angus King of Maine. King is already sponsor of S. 2127, but we wanted to discuss a companion bill for H.R. 154. While waiting our turn, we recieved an offer to meet with Senator Boozman of Arkansas. Boozman is on the Senate Committee of Veterans’ Affairs, which would be responsible for the funds appropriated, should H.R. 154 gain a companion bill. In order to maximize our time rather than waiting in line, we left a challenge coin and information for Senator King and then proceeded to visit Boozman. Contacts: (202) 224-5344; William_Ellis@king.senate.gov; Twitter: @SenAngusKing
We had the privilege of a photo op with Senator Boozman. As we posed for a picture of the challenge coin exchange, I asked him to sponsor a companion bill for H.R. 154 and to co-sponsor S. 2127 in the Senate. Without quoting his exact words, he did express intent to take action. Contacts: (202) 224-4843; Twitter: @JohnBoozman
Friday, May 25th:
With all STH activities concluded and the boys on their way home, Laura and I received a private tour of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown. Many thanks to the Captain & crew of the Brown for allowing us to see firsthand the type of vessel that our fathers sailed on!
The following is a contact list of the Committees currently holding WWII Merchant Mariner legislation:
H.R. 154: Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2017
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-3527
Chairman: Dr. Phil Roe – Tennessee
S. 2127: Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2017
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
534 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-7391
Chairman: Senator Mike Crapo – Idaho
H.R. 5879: Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2018
U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee
2129 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-7502
Chairman: Rep. Jeb Hensarling – Texas
Charles A. Mills of Pearland, TX was honored at the American Merchant Marine Veterans 32nd National Convention in mid-March 2018 with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mills started his career in the United States Merchant Marine in 1937, serving aboard the S/S Carlton. During the same time frame, he attended the first convention of the National Maritime Union (NMU), becoming a charter member.
Mills actively sailed until the end of WWII. Two of the vessels upon which he worked (Carlton and S/S Tillie Lykes) were later lost to enemy attacks.
Following the war years, Mills embarked on a four-decade career as an NMU official, serving in many capacities. He was in most (or all) cases the first African American to hold each position.
Retirement did not slow Mills down. He continues to this day to advocate for the U.S. Merchant Marine, especially for his fellow WWII Veterans. He has served as a National Officer with AMMV and has twice been part of a “Storm the Hill” team which visited Congress to promote WWII Merchant Marine legislation. At 97-years of age, Mills is headed back to Washington, D.C. in May to do it once again.
Mills is pictured below with supporting family members at the 2018 AMMV Convention.
Click HERE to see Charles Mill address the TV media in St. Louis.
The purpose of this legislation is “to award a Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the United States Merchant Mariners of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during World War II.” S. 2127 was introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska on November 15, 2017.
The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, chaired by Sen. Michael Crapo of Idaho, currently has control of the bill. S. 2127 has 17 co-sponsors as of mid-April, 2018. A companion bill in the House is needed.
Flashback: End of the 114th session of Congress
H.R. 2992: Merchant Marine of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act, introduced by Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana, had collected 312 co-sponsors as the 114th Congress was winding to a close.
On November 30th, 2016, during a special session of Congress dealing with “legislation considered under suspension of the rules”, H.R. 2992 passed the U.S. House of Representatives. This special action was required since the rules otherwise permit only one Congressional Gold Medal per session of Congress, which had already been finalized. It is notable to mention that two other WWII groups also saw their Gold Medal legislation passed in this session. (In 2014, seven Congressional Gold Medals were awarded to various groups and individuals.)
Speaking on the House Floor were Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), who introduced the bill. Together, these three representatives did a wonderful job in laying out the facts.
The passage of H.R. 2992 was a short-lived victory, as the focus shifted to companion Senate Legislation S. 2989. Support for this legislation quickly rose from 10 to 34 co-sponsors, thanks to a hard push from AMMV members, advocates, and sponsoring Senators. Yet, there was not enough overall interest to push the bill beyond this point.
As stated above, three WWII groups were saw their respective legislation pass in this special House session. However, of the companion Senate bills to each of these three passed House bills, our U.S. Senate only collectively saw fit to pass the Gold Medal bill for Filipino Veterans of WWII (S. 1555). It was signed by President Obama on December 14th, 2016.
What about our American citizen Veterans? Common accepted statistics convey that one in every twenty-six U.S. Merchant Mariners who served in WWII were killed in the line of duty. Over 8,400 American seamen never returned; an additional 11,200 were wounded; 733 ships over 1,000 gross tons were sunk; dozens of our Merchant Mariners were captured and tortured as Prisoners of War.
Why won’t our Congress provide a strong enough push to get this bill over the hump? Take a moment and “google” past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal. The list includes golfers, athletes, authors, and even a cartoonist. With all due respect to any past recipients, WHAT ABOUT OUR MERCHANT MARINERS OF WWII? They paid the price. Without their service and sacrifice, the Allied forces would not have been properly supplied and the war would have been lost. It would be a much different world today.
Please – contact your Senators and ask for their support of S. 2127. Our seagoing Veterans of the Greatest Generation deserve this recognition. IT’S TIME!
Click HERE to fill out this quick automated form letter to Congress asking support for S. 2127.
Click HERE to print out a form letter to mail to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs asking for support of S. 2127.
The Battle of the Atlantic Memorial (BOAM) is a United Kingdom fundraising campaign to build a national memorial to the Battle of the Atlantic on Liverpool’s waterfront. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest campaign of WWII, which saw 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships lost, featured 100 convoy battles, and covered 3,000 square miles.
In addition to commemorating the Battle and all of its participants and contributors, the Memorial will have an educational role, informing the public – particularly young people – about the Battle of the Atlantic and its vital significance.
Representing the BOAM at the AMMV 32nd National Convention in St. Louis was Commodore Martin Connell, an attaché from the British Royal Navy. Commodore Connell discussed the organization’s goals and timeline in regards to constructing the monument in Liverpool that will honor, along with other groups, the Merchant Navies and Merchant Marine of all Allied nations of WWII.
Commodore Connell shakes hands with WWII Merchant Marine Veteran Jim Coley.
On the week of National Maritime Day 2017, a crew led by Past AMMV President Morris Harvey visited Congress and attended a ceremony at the Department of Transportation building. These “Storm the Hill” efforts were designed to educate members of Congress in the importance of passing H.R. 154: The Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2017, introduced by Congressman Al Green of Texas. A previous STH had been done in 2015 in support of similar legislation.
The 2017 team (pictured below in front of the D.O.T. building) included (L to R): Morris Harvey (Ocala Chapter); Robert Weagant (Midwest Chapter); Sheila Sova (AMMV Special Projects & Veterans Outreach); Charles A. Mills (Lonestar Chapter); Laura Johnson Riddle (Member-at-Large); and Eugene Barner (Member-at-Large). The 2018 group will be led by Charles Mills and is comprised mostly of the same members.
This time around, in addition to promoting H.R. 154, the group will also be asking for support of S. 2127: The Merchant Mariners of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2017, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. S. 2127 had not yet been introduced at the time of last year’s STH efforts.
Please tune in to AMMV’s official Facebook and Twitter platforms for timely coverage of the 2018 Storm the Hill.
WWII MM Vet Robert Weagant shakes hands with Rep. Brian Mast of Florida.
Leonard Row was just a 15-year old boy when he was turned away by a U.S. Navy recruiter because of his age. However, he was advised that the Maritime Service would happily accept him. Leonard then signed-up to train at the Catalina Island facility, which prepped young men to crew the merchant vessels that carried food, ammunitions, and other vital supplies to Allied forces worldwide.
Leonard was serving on the Mary A. Livermore early in his seagoing career when an incident occurred that changed his life forever. On May 28th, 1945, while anchored near Okinawa, a Kamikaze crashed into the Livermore. Eleven men died and seven were severely injured, including Leonard. One of the dead was his close friend, Robert E. Blake.
S/S Mary A. Livermore following Kamikaze attack
Leonard’s legs were completely shattered and part of one foot was missing. The doctors wanted to amputate his legs but Leonard pleaded against this. It would be a long road to only partial recovery, as he walks with a limp and a cane to this day.
Upon returning to the states, Leonard was released from military care and turned over a public health hospital; the U.S. military would no longer assist. He was essentially on his own.
Leonard recalls one incident when his peers kicked out his crutches and called him a “draft dodger”. Ironically, this seems to have been common public perception of the WWII Merchant Marine
Names of those lost from the Livermore, etched into the Walls of Honors at the American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial in San Pedro, CA.
Eventually, Leonard was adopted by the parents of his lost friend and shipmate Robert Blake. The Blake family helped Leonard pay his medical bills, and Leonard Row became Leonard Blake.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, during signing of GI Bill on June 22, 1944, stated, “I trust Congress will soon provide similar opportunities to members of the Merchant Marine who have risked their lives time and time again during war for the welfare of their country.”
It was 43 years later in 1988 when our U.S. Merchant Mariners of WWII were finally granted Veteran status. There were no benefits in the interim, and by this point in time these men were at or near retirement age, unable to capitalize on any of the watered-down benefits now bestowed upon them. Leonard Blake served his county honorably and was not afforded the care or recognition that was intended by Roosevelt. Thousands of other surviving Merchant Mariners had their own unique stories.
Legislation has been around for several sessions of Congress with the intent of righting this injustice by providing our Merchant Marine Veterans some form of monetary payment to compensate for this lifetime of loss. The current bill is H.R. 154: The Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2017. If enacted, this would provide our seagoing heroes with a lump sum payment of $25,000.
Please ask your Congressperson to support H.R. 154. It’s time.
Click HERE to print out a form letter to mail to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs asking for support of H.R. 154.
Click HERE to help Leonard Blake gain recognition.