ST. LOUIS – On June 6, 1944, Allied forces invaded western Europe in what we now call D-Day. But 74 years later, some World War II veterans are still fighting a battle against their own government.
The United States Merchant Marine lost more than 9,000 men during the war. Despite being recognized as veterans, Mariners didn’t receive the same benefits as other combat veterans. Now, the few who are left are asking for equal treatment.
Sheila Sova, daughter of World War II Merchant Marine veteran Orville Sova, is known to make a scene when it comes to honoring World War II Merchant Mariners.
“They lost more men per capita than any other branch of service, one in 26,” said Sova.
She fought for and won the right for the Merchant Marine flag to fly alongside the flags of America’s armed forces at the Veterans Honor Park in Chesterfield.
“It may seem very little to a lot of people,” she said. “But, it is very important to the veterans.”
On the heels of that victory, Sova and a group of World war II Merchant Mariners traveled to Washington, D.C., hoping for another win.
They met with congressman to drum up support for House Resolution 154.
“This $25,000 benefit would basically make up for the 43 years they went without any kind of disability. You know, they didn't get anything.”
Time is running out to pass anything for the roughly 1,200 Mariners who would be eligible.
“I know a lot of them who are in nursing homes now. And this money, I think, would seriously help them provide better care for them,” said Sova.
Right now, no Missouri or Illinois congressmen co-sponsor the bill. But Sova said, after 5 On Your Side ran a story in May about a World War II Merchant Marine veteran, things may change.
“(Congresswoman) Ann Wagner (R-MO) happened to see the story on Mr. Westrich,” said Sova. “I met with her staffers and they said Ann Wagner said she would certainly look at the bills and do whatever she could. And that made me feel pretty good.”
Sova says meetings with other congressmen, including Mike Bost (R-IL), went well. And she hopes the momentum gathered will give the men of the Merchant Marine the honor she feels is long-overdue.
“These men just got overlooked and nobody cared about them. It doesn't make sense to me,” she said.
Sova's group is also rallying support for Senate Bill 2127, which would award a Congressional Gold Medal to the World War II Merchant Mariners. She believes passing that will open the door for the cash benefit.
Sova asks anyone who supports these ideas to express that feeling to their congressman and senator.