Rogow is seen here at age 22 at the end of the war in 1945, about to make a phone call home from Sydney, Australia, to let the family know he is OK.

Rogow is seen here at age 22 at the end of the war in 1945, about to make a phone call home from Sydney, Australia, to let the family know he is OK.

by Pamela Rogow

My 92-year-old father, Mel Rogow, never talked much about his military service in World War II. For most of my life, all I knew was that he had enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marines, whose job was delivering supplies to Allied war fronts around the world. Only in recent years did I learn — from other people — how treacherous this job was.

The Merchant Marines faced torpedoes and engaged in battles with German U-Boats. Luckily, when my dad’s ship was torpedoed, the ship was in warm waters, and he and his fellow seamen were able to scramble onto rafts and eventually be rescued. After a few days at sea, they were rescued and shipped out soon afterwards on another warship.

Others were not so lucky. Those torpedoed while delivering supplies to the North Atlantic Russian front generally froze to death in the icy Murmansk Sea. Others died when a mine exploded their ship. Others were caught and beheaded at Wake Island by the Japanese. In fact, the Merchant Marine units suffered by far the highest casualty rate of any American military unit in the war, almost twice the rate in the Army and over four times the rate in the Navy.

The Merchant Mariners had been enlisted by Roosevelt at the start of the war, with assurances of full veterans benefits. Then Congress turned its back, eventually retroactively reclassifying them as World War II veterans but still cutting them out from benefits like the GI Bill that enabled millions of other veterans to attend college and buy a home, securing a foot in the middle class. My dad was pushing 60 when he secured a college diploma and went on to law school. He was able to practice as an attorney for about 15 years before retiring, but he knows other Merchant Marine veterans who were never able to climb into the middle class and who still live in or near poverty.

Why did the military and Congressional elite deny these heroes their benefits? Some think racial prejudice may have played a part. Remember that during World War II, the Army, Navy and Marines were racially segregated. Not so in the Merchant Marines. When Roosevelt conscripted them into service, Mariners of different racial backgrounds were already working together on ships, and they remained the only racially integrated branch of the military throughout the war; in fact, some white seamen served under black command in WWII. Charles Mills, an African-American Merchant Mariner from that time, agrees that the Congressmen and military elite, virtually all white, looked down on the integrated Merchant Marine veterans as second-class.

Whether it was racism or some other form of bias, the Mariners were ignored. Many of these forgotten heroes are now running out of whatever limited savings they had and are living out their final years in or near poverty.

The proposed legislation, HR-563, the “Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2015,” would finally recognize the roughly 4,400 surviving guys and provide them with a one-time compensation of $25,000 to help them through their waning years. This bill is decades overdue and has support from members of both parties; however, it remains stalled in the Republican-controlled House Veterans Affairs Committee. This past June, even the Pennsylvania State Senate recently gave Congress a kick in the pants. Our State Senate passed a Resolution, introduced by Republican Senator Mario Scavello, “urging the United Stated Congress to pass HR-563.”

Rogow is seen here at age 89 in 2012 visiting the S.S. Lane Victory, a ship maintained by Merchant Marine veteran volunteers in San Pedro Harbor, California.

Rogow is seen here at age 89 in 2012 visiting the S.S. Lane Victory, a ship maintained by Merchant Marine veteran volunteers in San Pedro Harbor, California.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Janice Hahn, adding more co-sponsors will help pressure the Veteran Affairs Committee to move the bill to a full floor vote. Unfortunately, our Congressional representative, Chaka Fattah, has yet to co-sponsor this bill for these longest-waiting veterans.

Opponents have raised several objections to the bill. One claim is that the Merchant Mariners who served in World War II are not bona fide veterans, despite a Congressional act to the contrary. Another concern is that passing the bill would somehow open a door to a range of “citizen groups” demanding veterans’ benefits. (A handful of such citizens operated under military authority in the war; few faced combat danger, and even fewer are alive.) Yet another objection is cost, to which I can only say: Seriously? Morris Harvey, outgoing president of the Association of Merchant Marine Veterans, explains that these men, most of whom are now in their 90s, don’t want Congressional dysfunction to block their last chance at just recognition.

My father writes the obituaries of WWII Merchant Marine vets for their newsletter. He laments, “Every time we lose another guy, I hurt to think that they died without receiving their appreciation from the country they served. Sometimes it seems like they’re just waiting for the rest of us to go.”

Congressman Fattah should join other members of the House of Representatives in becoming a co-sponsor of HR-563. While my dad is still alive, I’d like to hear him finally talk about the years in which he risked his life to fight Hitler and defend democracy, with pride not only in his service but in his country’s response. It’s time for America’s belated thank-you to the World War II Merchant Mariners.

Pamela Rogow founded MaMa (Moving Arts of Mt Airy) 18 years ago. She has designed and produced museum exhibitions, riverwalks, visitor centers and other cultural destinations, elements and events for many years. Her parents still live in the same house in L.A. where they raised their four children.

  • Jim S.

    Ever wonder if there are VA employee’s bringing politics past the doors that help create the needed conservative ‘scandals’, oft repeated when nothing done in previous hearings, those like Rep Miller and company need to push the buttons to privatize for corporate profits!! Many Vets already know there are, making certain Executive branches look bad while doing nothing under another certain Executive branch of shared political ideology!!

    DeJa-Vu: “With no shared sacrifices being asked of civilians after Sept. 11″, All Over Again!!

    Another the Country Served, through their representatives, Can Ignore No Longer, but they’ll certainly try!!

    While they still don’t Demand they Sacrifice, thus it’s still onto future generations, if at all, to pick up the costs needed!!

    Though we still have their long practiced ignoring of more on AO and many other issues, the brothers and sisters pass away from in the meantime, or the oft used conservative ideology just deny any issue exists, cheaper to pay, self proclaimed, experts{?}, or throw a few million to corporate researchers, when you know the results from are what they seek for government hearings and reports!

    “Why in 2009 were we still using paper?” VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers “When we came in, there was no plan to change that; we’ve been operating on a six month wait for over a decade.” 27 March 2013

    Chris Hayes : “If you can run a deficit to go to war, you can run a deficit to take care of the people who fought it” In response to Republican, long ago lost as the party of Lincoln and not just as to us Veterans, opposition to expanding Veterans’ benefits on fiscal grounds.

    “If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth our treasure, too — not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American.” -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

    Our long time, us Vietnam, all Combat Theaters, Veterans conservative, one of experts(?) used to shape their policies, nemesis: * Sally Satel Still Selling Care for PTSD Veterans is Waste of Money *

    ** ‘I fight like hell to pay as little as possible’: Donald Trump says he avoids all the tax he can **
    ** Trump swiftboats McCain ** Mccain as a conservative does deserve the criticism as to us Vets and him respresenting those served!!

    Hold on there Donald, neither have you, nor have the other uber wealthy especially, building that wealth with those huge tax cuts and two more long wars, anything you might say you’ve done is like the rest of the flag wavin poser patriots just publicity grabbing hollow gestures, not to mention adding those defense industry investments to that hoard of billions!! Why in your run to be CiC you can use them hoarded multi millions from those two huge conservative tax cuts, for those in your bracket, as well as the returns on those defense industry investments to fund your campaign, as others do same with theirs in funding the many opponents running alongside you!

    “We are dealing with veterans, not procedures—with their problems, not ours.” —General Omar Bradley, First Administrator of the Veterans Administration

    Sen. Bernie Sanders told Conservatives: “If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans, than don’t go war. These people are bearing the brunt of what war is about, We have a moral obligation to support them.” February, 26th, 2014

    Neither of these recent wars have yet been paid for, nor the continued blowback from the spread and growth from the policies implemented!

    Neither the long term results from, including the long ignored or outright denied existence of, till this Administrations Cabinet and Gen Shinseki, only Government branch consistent for the past six years, Veterans issues from!

    As well as under deficits most of the, grossly under funded for decades and the wars from now, VA budget is still borrowed, with interest, thus added problem creating costs, with representative who control the purse strings blaming the mostly dedicated VA personal within, that shouldn’t exist!

    USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71 – Independent**

    • Jim S.

      ** Proposed: One-of-a-Kind Medical School to Care for Military Veterans **
      Syracuse University has briefed federal and state officials on a proposal to create a one-of-a-kind medical school on campus to train doctors to care for military veterans at understaffed VA hospitals nationwide.>>>

      Surprise, Surprise, NOT! Here we are in 2015 and the 21st century!
      ** Survey finds civilian physicians feel underprepared to treat veterans **

      * * * * *

      ** VA Helping Private Sector Understand Veterans Care Needs **

      ** Veterans Being Forced To Seek Costly Private Care **

      ** VA Helping Vets Who Served as Medics Capitalize on Their Experience **

  • Judy Carter

    What a well written and lovely tribute to you father. Let’s all work to put an end to broken promises and pass HR-563, the “Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2015,” It is long overdue.