By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has awarded its highest honor to merchant seamen who fought in World War II, nearly eight decades after the conflict in which more than 8,000 were killed.
More than two years after Congress voted to approve the award, Capitol Hill leaders on Wednesday awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to surviving merchant seamen who donated equipment, food, fuel and supplies. other materials to military troops around the world during World War II. Although they suffered what was thought to be the highest per capita casualty rate of the war, they were not granted veteran status until 1988 because they are not part of the army.
Dave Yoho, a 94-year-old service veteran, said at the Statuary Hall ceremony that he and his fellow sailors “brought home the scars of war” but were forgotten.
“This war ended before most of you were born, but there was a sense of patriotism” among those who served, Yoho said. He was accompanied by another Merchant Navy veteran who Yoho said was 101 years old.
The American Merchant Navy supplied goods in many different arenas during the war, including the Normandy invasion. Legislation passed by Congress in March 2020 awarding the medal cites a 1944 New York Times article that the invasion of Normandy “would not have been possible without the Merchant Navy”.
Congressional leaders thanked the sailors for their service and said it was long overdue.
“Thank you for being there when others weren’t watching,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “It’s a nice medal.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the Merchant Navy had paid “far, far more than its fair share”.
Democratic Representative John Garamendi of California, an early sponsor of the legislation, said it took Congress 50 years to award the medal. He noted that the veterans’ successors are still on the seas supplying goods around the world.
The medal will be displayed at the American Merchant Marine Museum in New York.
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