Local Merchant Mariners Remind Us of True Meaning of Veterans Day; Former Seamen from World War II Take Part in Jacksonville's Veterans Day Parade at 11 A.M

By Piatt, Gregory | The Florida Times Union, November 11, 2005 | Go to article overview

Local Merchant Mariners Remind Us of True Meaning of Veterans Day; Former Seamen from World War II Take Part in Jacksonville's Veterans Day Parade at 11 A.M


Piatt, Gregory, The Florida Times Union


Byline: GREGORY PIATT

Merchant mariner John Simms was asleep on board the SS Cranford when he was awakened by an explosion on July 30, 1942.

A German submarine torpedoed his cargo ship, which was carrying cotton and chrome ore to the United States for the war effort, 250 miles east-southeast of Barbados. Simms jumped from his bunk, put on his prized $3 Thom McAn shoes, went topside and jumped overboard.

"I kind of flopped overboard," the Jacksonville man recalled. "I tried to keep from drifting into the screw [the propeller] because the screw was still turning as it slipped below the water line."

The ship sank in three minutes. Simms climbed into a life raft, which floated up to the side of the submarine. He used his feet, minus one shoe, to push off from the German U-boat. The Germans gave the Merchant Marines two tins of water and a course to Barbados, then disappeared into the Caribbean Sea.

The life boat survivors were picked up two hours later by a Spanish tanker ship and dropped off in Curacao. When Simms lost his ship, his pay stopped until he was on another cargo ship. He also had to find his way back to the United States.

Today, Simms, 87, and other merchant seamen from World War II will take part in Jacksonville's Veterans Day parade, which begins at 11 a.m. near The Jacksonville Landing.

Simms was one of the 215,000 Merchant Marines who served in World War II. The nine mariners from the Cranford who went down with the ship were among the 8,380 Merchant Marines killed during the war.

The Merchant Marines operated in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but it was the German U-boats that took a heavy toll on the civilian mariner force. By ratio, the Merchant Marines suffered greater casualties than any of the other four services, according to the Jacksonville Maritime Museum Society. They lost one mariner in 26, according to the museum society. The next closest was the Marine Corps, which lost one Marine in 34, according to the museum statistics.

But during and after the war, the mariners weren't considered veterans because they were civilian seamen. And they didn't receive veterans' benefits like the GI bill, said Gerald Krueger, a World War II merchant mariner from Jacksonville.

"We were forgotten," Krueger said.

Finally in 1988, Congress awarded the merchant seamen veterans status but no benefits. There are now two identical bills in the Senate and House that would pay these World War II merchant mariners $1,000 a month, and the payment would go to surviving spouses.

The House bill has 236 co-sponsors from both parties, including eight of Florida's 25 representatives. …

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