Veteran’s Day: Jack Beritzhoff talks about the Merchant Marine

Stillpoint author Jack Beritzhoff interviewed

96-year-old World War II veteran Jack Beritzhoff, author of Sail Away: Journeys of a Merchant Sailor, spoke with NBC Bay Area recently, seeking to right a historical wrong: the continued lack of recognition to the Merchant Marine for its service during the war.

“I wrote a story about it.”

It is a phrase Jack Beritzhoff says a lot. And when you consider the San Rafael resident, and former Merchant Mariner, is about to celebrate his 97th birthday, that adds up to a lot of stories.

In fact, Beritzhoff compiled many of his favorite one into a book he published in 2012: Sail Away, Journeys Of A Merchant Seaman.

Still, there is one story he is most eager to share these days, about an oversight of history he would like to see corrected.

“I think it’s an injustice,” said Beritzhoff.

Beritzhoff is referring to the fact members of the Merchant Marine were never included in the GI Bill, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. The law provided a wide range of financial and educational benefits to returning World War II veterans. The GI Bill covered all members of the military service, but not the Merchant Marine.

President Roosevelt indicated at the time he’d like to see the benefits extended to the mariners, but it never happened.

“He died and nobody took up the torch, you might say,” Beritzhoff said.

The Merchant Marine, established even before the United States Navy, is a fleet of commercial ships that, in time of war, are pressed into service delivering supplies to aid the military. Beritzhoff served in the Merchant Marine from 1942 to 1952, participating in both World War II and the Korean War.

While Beritzhoff never came under enemy fire, thousands of his fellow mariners died in WWII.

“They had more casualties percentage-wise than any branch in the service,” Beritzhoff said.

Beritzhoff believes it is a disservice that such sacrifices have never been adequately rewarded by the government.

He has recently written an editorial titled “The Sailors The Country Forgot” to bring attention to it.

Beritzhoff is not without his allies in his mission, though. In January 2015 a bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives that would “grant our surviving WWII Merchant Seamen a modest financial benefit for their bravery and sacrifice.”

At his age, Beritzhoff said, any benefit would be mostly symbolic, but greatly appreciated.

Story by Garvin Thomas on NBCBayArea.com: Bay Area Proud

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