AUGUST 10, 1948
HYDE PARK, Monday—I have had a number of appeals lately from associations of merchant seamen. At first they came to me because an effort was being made to include merchant marine personnel in the benefits given to the men who were in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Those who served in the merchant marine will, I am sure, remember the friction that often existed between the Navy gun crews on merchant ships and members of the regular crew. This arose largely from the fact that Navy men usually would put on a little "side." But this was understandable, since the men in the merchant marine who belonged to a union were apt to point out that they might be running all the dangers of a regular Navy man, but at least they got "real" pay for doing so.
It seems to me that the only compensation a man in the Navy had was the fact that he and his family had certain benefits, which now the merchant seamen would like to share. I think it is only simple justice that if a man in the merchant marine received a permanent disability in the line of duty, so that his earning capacity was really permanently impaired, he should receive the same benefits as a Navy man, and so should his family if he were lost at sea.
But the men who preferred to enlist in the merchant marine rather than in the Navy did so with their eyes open. Consequently, if they neither lost their lives nor their earning capacity, I do not see why they should have the same benefits as a man in the Navy.
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Now the appeals are coming in saying that a man who served during the war in the merchant marine should be exempted from the draft. Here again, I think there should be a scrutiny of the records.
If a man was turned down for the regular services in the war and then served in the merchant marine during the war or for as long as he could, he should be exempted and he probably would be for the same reasons for which he was exempted before. If, however, he did what some young men did, namely, escape the draft by enlisting in our coastwise service either on the Pacific or on the Atlantic, I do not think he should now be exempted from the draft.
After a very short period we controlled the seas pretty thoroughly near our shores, so that being in the coastwise service was a pretty safe spot.
I have the greatest admiration for the men who were in the merchant marine and either went into the Navy or because of shortages of trained men remained at their posts in the merchant marine. Those men were not seeking exemption from danger. They were doing the things they knew best how to do and in many instances the merchant marine ran more risks than the naval ships.
There were men who figured out, however, that if they were going to run a risk they might as well run it with higher pay than the Navy men. I have heard tell that they would sometimes jeer at the Navy boys for being willing to risk their lives and get so little for it. All that now has to be taken into consideration in this question of equal status and benefits accruing from war service.