By Editor in Chief Johnas Presbyter
We've had quite a bit of chatter on Twitter and some E mails concerning how one goes about obtaining medals and awards for American Merchant Mariners who have operated in close combat support of U.S. naval or Military Forces, especially those who served during WWII. Not long ago the Federal Government passed legislation making certain Merchant Mariners from the WWII era military veterans eligible for certain VA benefits. This has brought up the issue of military decorations and awards for such service. Many of the eligible veterans who applied for the Veteran's status received honorable discharges upon acceptance of their applications from the military authority that chartered their vessels such as the Navy or Army Transportation Corps. Many whose vesels were not on long term charter from the military but were engaged in military logistics were issued discharges from the U.S. Coast Guard. This has brought up the issue of eligibility of wounded or heroic Merchant Mariners being eligible for military decorations from the service issuing their discharge.
We have no definitive answer to that question due to the variance in criteria for the many awards given in WWII. But we do know that throughout the war and even to this day the MAritime Administration and War Shiping organizations of the era provided a number of mariner specific awards. The most confusion seems to be surrounding the Purple Heart. Merchant Mariners wounded in WWII were, and if not yet awarded are eligible for the Mariners Medal the criteria of which reads "The Mariners Medal is awarded to a mariner who, while serving from December 7, 1941 and July 25, 1947, was wounded or suffered physical injures as result of an act of an enemy of the United States." This is the equivalent of the better known "Purple Heart ". Any WWII mariner injured in combat is eligible. Some who actually received this medal do not know what it was for and have been applying for the Purple Heart through t he service that recently provided their discharge for Veterans Benefits purposes. Merchant Mariners are always eligible for the decorations and awards provided by the Maritime Administration for remarkable service but are clearly not eligible for awards redundant with the equivalent Maritime Administration award. Some awards such as the Silver and Gold Life Saving Medals are awarded directly by the Coast Guard and with a bit more timeliness than similar or related Maritime Administration awards. In such cases the mariner may be denied the Maritime Administration award if it is considered redundant with the Coast Guard issued medal. In other cases where a Merchant Mariner has been issued a military discharge, and has performed actions for which a military award is appropriate and no similar award is offered by the Maritime Administration the relevant military service may make the relevant decision. Ther are no hard and fast rules for such situations that we re aware of.
THE MARITIME ADMINISTRATION PUBLISHED ITS POLICIES REGARDING THE WWII DECORATIONS ALONG WITH INFORMATION ON HOW TO OBTAIN BELATED AWARDS IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER IN 2015. This information ios available on line at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2015/05/21/2015-12088/policy-announcement-merchant-marine-awards-and-flags-program
Below the greater part of the information from this Federal Register Notice is reprinted and highlighted: