Rep. Janice Hahn remembers the story from her childhood. Her father, a Navy captain during World War II, received benefits under the GI Bill. Her uncle, Gordon Hahn, a lieutenant in the Merchant Marines, did not. "Maybe that had something to do with just an early sense of that doesn't seem fair. There's a bit of an injustice here," Hahn said.
The decades-long effort to recognize and honor the U.S. Merchant Marines of WWII took another step forward Wednesday when the House passed a bipartisan measure to award the seamen a Congressional Gold Medal. The medal, along with the Presidential Medal of Honor, is the highest civilian award in the country. More than 200,000 Merchant Mariners played essential and perilous roles in winning the war -- ferrying American troops and supplies into Atlantic and Pacific theater battle zones. Some of the roughly 5,000 remaining mariners -- now in their 80s and 90s -- expressed gratitude this week over the House effort. And they voiced guarded optimism about a similar Senate measure and about perhaps getting compensation like the soldiers and sailors with whom they served.