Rumors, Lies and Innuendos about the Merchant Marine in World War II

During and after World War II mariners were the victims of various rumors, lies,and innuendos regarding alleged refusal to unload ships at Guadalcanal, supposed avoidance of the draft, and "high" salaries.

The following pages will dispel those rumors, lies, and innuendos with facts.

Alleged Incident at Guadalcanal

Ship 'Strike" Ires Guadalcanal Fighters, Akron Beacon Journal, January 21, 1943

Navy Message re Guadalcanal, 23 Jan 1943

Merchant Seamen vs. Westbrook Pegler: Unions Protest Charge of Navy Friction, San Francisco Chronicle, February 17, 1943

Seamen Libel Case: NMU Files Suit Against AP and Hearst Papers, San Francisco Chronicle, February 18, 1943

The Enemy at Home, National Maritime Union of America, February 1943 [Pamphlet in defense of accusations about mariners refusing to unload ships]

40 Seamen to Be Decorated [Excerpts], San Francisco California Examiner, July 10, 1943

Pacific Lifelines

Excerpt from: Sea War: The Story of the U. S. Merchant Marine in World War II, by Felix Riesenberg, Jr. which tells the truth about the merchant marine at Guadalcanal.

Heroes Without Privileges

(From the September 1945 Coronet)

His name is Joe, or Bill or Jack. He has been killed in action, he has been tortured by the Japs or thrown into their prisons. He has been wounded and permanently crippled and his outfit has the highest proportional dead and missing rate of the war. But he has no honorable discharge button, he is ineligible for the American Legion, and he comes home from the battlefronts without parades or banquets. He cannot be honored with the flag in burial at sea, his name seldom gets on the home town bronze plaques and for him there is no GI Bill of Rights. . . .

Rights and Privileges of American Servicemen Office of War Information Press Release May 1943


Official Correspondence Outlining Exemption of Merchant Marine Personnel from the Selective Service Act (Draft) During World War II

Memorandum Deputy Director Selective Service to State Selective Service Directors, March 15, 1941

Bureau of Navigation to National Director of Selective Service, August 11, 1941

Director of Selective Service to Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, August 27, 1941

Manpower Division Selective Service to Director of Maritime Personnel, United States Maritime Commission, August 27, 1941

Director Division of Maritime Personnel, United States Maritime Commission to Chief Manpower Division, Selective Service System, September 13, 1941

Director of Selective Service to Chief of the Bureau of Navigation Navy Department, September 15, 1941

Active Duty Orders, U. S. Maritime Service, March 14, 1945

Truth About "High" Salaries

Comparison of Income After Taxes-- Navy vs Merchant Marine
Navy personnel were exempt from income taxes, while merchant mariners paid income taxes and "Victory" taxes. Every man serving aboard a merchant vessel, with the possible exception of the master and chief engineer, could earn more money ashore in a shipyard or defense plant without taking the chance of being killed by bombs or torpedoes.

The following study was done in 1943 by the War Shipping Administration based on actual payrolls in answer to a letter from the American Legion.

"Mr. Arren H. Atherton, National Commander of the American Legion, 'Your cooperation in dispelling the misconception in regard to merchant seaman's pay will be greatly appreciated.'

Admiral Telfair Knight"

 Annual income after taxes (1943)



  Seaman first class vs. Ordinary seaman    $1,886  $1,897
 Petty officer second class vs. Able seaman




 Benefits    Navy  Mariner
 Permanent disability, merchant seaman, value     $6,290
 Partial disability, Navy personnel, cash value


 Death benefit, merchant seaman  


 Death benefit, Navy petty officer third class


 Cash value, merchant seaman widow's pension  


 Cash value, Navy widow's pension




Army-Navy Pay Tops Most Civilians'
Unmarried Private's Income Equivalent to $3,600 Salary

Comparison of net income of military and civilian workers taking into account, taxes, housing allowances, and other benefits received by military.

Barron's National Business and Financial Weekly, April 24, 1944

GI Bill
The 1944 GI Bill gave members of the "Armed Forces" who served at least 90 days anywhere between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 31, 1946 major benefits for education, home loans, and job preferences.

As he signed the GI Bill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said:
"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."

This never happened due to FDR's death, opposition by some in the military, and pressure from organizations such as American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars who still believed and spread the myth about high salaries despite the letter sent to the Head of the American Legion in 1943. Some organizations and individuals still believe in the myth. The head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars still refuses to recognize the U.S. Merchant Marine as veterans of WWII in 2000 even though the U.S. Government does.


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