New London - U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal stood before a backdrop of the Thames River Friday to announce their co-sponsorship of a bill to help make it easier for World War II-era U.S. Merchant Marines to receive benefits.
Standing behind a rostrum on City Pier with former merchant mariner Earl Maxfield Jr. of Old Saybrook, the two Democratic senators from Connecticut said the bill was a simple thank you to the few hundred surviving merchant mariners who served their country during the Great War. The bipartisan bill, which lowers the bar for merchant mariners seeking to receive veteran status, is expected to cost only about $4 million annually.
"The benefits are fairly minimal," Murphy said at a press conference attended by about a dozen people, including Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and Robert T. Ross, executive director of the state Office of Military Affairs.
They include the ability to receive awards and be buried with full military honors.
The legislation introduced by Blumenthal and Murphy, called the World War II Merchant Mariner Service Act, allows merchant mariners to use alternative records to apply for veteran status with the National Maritime Center. These include time logs and Social Security records, as well as affidavits.
Murphy said many of the original records were destroyed in the 1970s, before a federal court ruling made merchant mariners who served during World War II eligible for veterans benefits. This has made proving service in the Merchant Marines difficult.
Maxfield, who joined the Merchant Marines at age 15, said it was appropriate that the announcement of the bill occurred in New London, because in May 1945, just a few days before the end of World War II, a German U-boat sank a ship not far off Fishers Island, killing 12 merchant mariners.
"I'm honored to have the opportunity to help these unsung heroes get the honors and benefits they earned," Murphy said in a statement.
"By streamlining the process by which WWII-era merchant mariners apply for veteran status, this legislation will ensure that the heroes who answered the call and put their lives on the line in treacherous, enemy-infested seas receive the benefits they deserve," Blumenthal said in the statement.