David Hilzenrath's article {"Merchant Sailors Fighting for Status as Veterans," July 27} does indicate a "moral victory" for ancient mariners.

In my opinion all "merchies" who sailed out through the submarine nets to face the Axis navies and air forces were legitimate war veterans. Recognition should not be extended only to those who participated in major invasions.

How many members of the American Legion were in no invasion, were in no enemy action or never left the continental United States in World War II? Nobody has complained about those vets; they did not control their orders. But for merchant seamen, let's have a special test -- invaded, torpedoed, bombed, strafed, mined, sunk or just lost at sea might be neat.

I sailed in dozens of North Atlantic and Mediterranean convoys in 1943, '44 and '45, many of which were under submarine attack. My liberty ship was a regular target of the Luft-waffe while carrying cargo in North Africa and Sicily, though we were out of phase for the landings.

I happened to get a medal for helping save the flaming SS Daniel Huger and most of her cargo of packaged aviation gas. That does not make me more or less a veteran than anyone who sailed in foreign seas during the war -- whether or not his ship was in an invasion.

I obtained a U.S. Naval Reserve commission in 1944, and my request for active duty was accepted. Subsequent to reporting, however, my orders were revoked because of a marginal eye test. There wasn't much demand for ensigns at that point, but the rebounding fleet of merchant ships had to be crewed. At the time, a Navy captain asked me if I wanted to stay in the Navy or go back to sea. I know he was pleased with this sailor's response.

I remained in the Naval Reserve for many years, but withdrew when it appeared certain that no earned retirement would ever be paid to someone who was in the reserve during the war but did not "serve." There was a strange anti-merchie law to that effect, which is ironic because the Navy historically has ordered men to active duty or released them for merchant service, as the occasion demanded.

This peculiar "mindset against merchant seamen" -- it beats me to understand it.

My daughter and her husband are active merchant officers. How shall we advise them about sailing into harm's way? Can invasion schedules be promulgated in advance?


Ft. Washington