America's Forgotten Warriors: The Maritime Service

By Harrigan, Omar H. | Sea Classics, March 2006 | Go to article overview

America's Forgotten Warriors: The Maritime Service


Harrigan, Omar H., Sea Classics


Created as the marine arm of the American government, the United States Maritime Service was tasked to recruit and train the ship crews required to operate the greatest fleet of Merchantmen ever to put to sea

They wore blue or white uniforms, held rank, grades and ratings and they often fought and died beside Navy sailors and Coast Guard blue-jackets. But, that was where all similarity ended. First and foremost they were all volunteers - they were the US Merchant Marine seamen of World War Two.

Never afforded the legal status of enlisted or conscripted military personnel - subject to be drafted if they stayed ashore too long - as civilian contract workers in uniform, the men of the USMM lived in a strange twilight world that frequently saw them take the same risks and suffer the same crippling injuries as Naval personnel. Yet, they were so long denied any form of veteran's benefits that few in today's government agencies remember the critical role they played in helping win WWII. By any definition, the men of the long-serving US Merchant Marine are truly America's forgotten warriors.

"The United States shall have a Merchant Marine... [to] serve as a Naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency... [and] should be operated by highly trained and efficient citizens of the United States and that the United States Navy and the Merchant Marine of the United States should work closely together to promote the maximum integration of the total seapower forces of the United States...

"The Secretary may establish and maintain a voluntary organization for the training of citizens of the United States to serve on Merchant Marine vessels of the United States to be known as the United States Maritime Service... and to prescribe the uniform of such service and the rules governing the wearing and furnishing of such uniform... The ranks, grades, and ratings for personnel of the United States Maritime Service shall be the same as... for the personnel of the United States Coast Guard."

Merchant Marine Act of 1936

In 1938, when a Second World War was imminent, President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized that winning the war would require many ships to carry war supplies to the fronts. He ordered the mass-production of Liberty ships and established the US Maritime Service (USMS) to train the men needed to operate these ships. Joseph P. Kennedy (father of President John F. Kennedy) was appointed as the first Chairman of the new Federal Maritime Commission in 1937 during which he laid the groundwork for the US Merchant Marine. Kennedy became the United States Ambassador to Great Britain in 1938. Retired Adm. Emory Scott Land, USN, succeeded Kennedy as Chairman, and who also headed the War Shipping Administration. Admiral Land is the genius who put together the ship production, training of the men in the USMS, and operation of the vast fleet.

The US Maritime Service was set up in 1938 under provisions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. Its purpose is to train officers and men for an adequate Merchant Marine. From 1 July 1941 to 1 March 1942, jurisdiction was under the US Maritime Commission. From 28 February 1942, the US Coast Guard, under Executive Order 9083, administered the training under the direction of the US Maritime Commission. On 11 July 1942, Presidential Executive Order 9198 transferred operation of the Maritime Service to the War Shipping Administration, Adm. Emory Land, Administrator. A Division of Training was established under Adm. Land.

USMS basic and advanced training bases were built across the nation:

* Port Hueneme, California (dedicated 30 August 1941 to 1942).

* Avalon, California (December 1942 to October 1945).

* Sheepshead Bay, New York (September 1942 to 28 February 1954).

* St. Petersburg, Florida (November 1939 to 31 March 1950).

* Officer training school, Fort Trumbull, Connecticut (1 January 1939 to May 1946). …

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