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.
Will U.S. Merchant Mariners who served in support of the Korean Conflict obtain Veteran status?
AMMV Government Affairs Co-Chair Michael Helbig has been working diligently for over two full years on compiling a group application to submit to the Civilian/Military Service Review Board (C/MSRB) with the end goal of obtaining Veteran status for American Merchant Mariners who served in support of the Korean Conflict.
The C/MSRB is made up of Air Force personnel who are assigned as needed to review cases of civilian groups applying for Veteran status. It is clear that Helbig has his work cut out for him, as “the Board” revised it rules following the successful lawsuit won by the WWII U.S. Merchant Marine group back in 1988. The current eligibility criteria for a Merchant Marine group may be considered somewhat daunting.
However, Helbig is a master researcher who refuses to leave a stone unturned. His casework is meticulous, and he has poured thousands of hours of work into this project. In fact, Helbig was recognized with the Harvey-Wichita Award at AMMV’s National Convention in St. Louis. This is the equivalent to a “Man of the Year” award, something that he has certainly earned.
AMMV Judge Advocate Capt. Joseph Byrne is assisting Helbig by reviewing files and providing opinions. Capt. Byrne met with Helbig during the AMMV Convention.
Click HERE for an overview of Helbig’s casework.
Click HERE for an update (March 2018) on Helbig’s work.