Editor, Times-Union:
Thanks to the school system for their concert honoring veterans. It brought me much pride that locally we are teaching our young of the personal commitment and sacrifice that bought and maintains our freedom and liberty. Being a veteran of the Vietnam era and coming from a family that had and has many military personnel that served even back in our known history in the Civil War on forward, I found the concert a time of emotion, respect and pride.
During the honoring of our veterans each branch was asked to stand, who had served while the song representing Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force was played. I felt required to interrupt as the “Forgotten Branch” should also be remembered and honored. That being the Merchant Marine. Wars across the sea cannot be fought without massive supply effort of shipping. In a recent conflict I saw numerous trains go by filled with desert camouflage vehicles. They had to cross the water also. Perhaps we are represented by few Mariners locally. It would stand to reason. We are quite a ways from the oceans.
Actually, after interrupting the ceremony, I know not if anyone stood when the Merchant Marine was honored and doubt there is a song they claim. But I should have remained standing.
In my wallet I pack a card that says I am a Merchant Marine veteran. I have never been on a ship in my life. (My Navy father had five Army sons.) So it is obviously honorary yet anyone, veterans with a DD214, can be standing as Mariners with the forgotten. The law allows the Mariners to give dual veteranship to any who have served in other branches. I guess I was just too nervous to even think of standing after the concert gave a moment to honor the Mariners. As I stated there, our Merchant Marine suffered percentage wise much higher casualties in World War II than any remembered branch.
My uncle was a Mariner. He survived three ship sinkings and on the last was the sole survivor. Germany sank supply ships even off our own coasts. There was safety nowhere on the sea. The last sinking Uncle Frank endured was on a vessel hauling gasoline. He was in the belly of the vessel stoking to power the ship and knew instantly it was a bad one and they were going down. He was badly burned as he crossed the deck. He broke his ankle diving over the railing to escape the flames. Gas floats and the sea was on fire. Three times he had to come up and beat the gas back for air to swim out of it.
Our other branches returned to honor and also to federal benefits including education help, mortgage help and VA health help. The Mariners to none.
President Reagan brought the Mariners into the fold of veteranship. Bills have been before Congress to make small recompense for the benefits the lost. But soon all will be deceased as most WWII veterans. Thankfully, they are not all forgotten.
Jerry Rice