The U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II (USMMVWWII) was conceived and founded in 1944-1945. The organization’s former president, Abe Rapaport, was a merchant seaman on a ship in England, whose crew volunteered along with other merchant mariners, to sail old freighters across the English Channel under the fiercest of enemy fire from German shore batteries and their Luftwaffe aircraft. The ships were scuttled to create a protective breakwater for the construction of two temporary ports on the coast of Normandy in support of the invasion of Europe. This was called the “Mulberry Operation.” After the war ended, the USMMVWWII continued as a small organization on the east coast until 1972, eventually relocating to Seal Beach, California.
In 1980-1981, the USMMVWWII was reorganized and its official publication, The Anchor Light, was published. Mr Joseph Vernick became a member in 1982 and was elected secretary. He began correspondence with President Ronald Reagan and various congressmen, senators, governors, the secretary of transportation, secretary of the Navy and numerous flag officers of the U.S. Navy. The foremost goals of the USMMVWWII were to gain official recognition from the U.S. government and to obtain full veteran’s status.
In 1986, Mr. Vernick was elected president and began meetings with Congressman Glenn M. Anderson of the 32nd District of California. On behalf of the USMMVWWII, Congressman Anderson introduced House Bill 2032 for the acquisition of a World War II cargo vessel to be established as a memorial museum dedicated to the USMMVWWII and the U.S. Navy Armed Guard.
On May 7, 1987, John 0. Smith, vice president and Abe Rapaport, secretary, accompanied by Mr. Vernick, testified before the Subcommittee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. The chairman of the committee was Congressman Glenn M. Anderson; also in attendance were Congressman Mario Biaggi and Congresswoman Helen Delich Bently. Mr. Vernick testified in favor of passing HR 2032 which would designate the S.S. Lane Victory as a memorial ship. He also gave testimony in favor of passing HR 1430 for medals and awards, along with HR 1235 for official recognition and veterans benefits for merchant seamen who served during WWII. Numerous maritime unions, groups, and private individuals supported these bills. Our organization, along with other maritime organizations are proud to have been instrumental in accomplishing these goals.
In March 1988, the Honorable Glenn M. Anderson won unanimous passage of HR 2032. This bill conveyed full title of the S.S. Lane Victory, a World War II cargo vessel, to the USMMVWWlI. It was located in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in Benicia, California at that time. A few months later, Senators Pete Wilson and Alan Cranston of California along with the assistance of Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina passed HR 2032 in the U.S. Senate.
On October 18, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the congressional act of conveying the S.S. Lane Victory to the USMMVWWII, a non-profit, tax exempt corporation. On June 7, 1989, the Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration conveyed the “pink slip” (deed of gift), transferring the S.S. Lane Victory from the reserve fleet to the USMMVWWII. In addition to granting the USMMVWWII the title to the ship, a provision allowed the organization to obtain spare parts from other Victory ships that were still in “mothballs,” at the reserve fleet. Heavy barge cranes were provided by the Mare Island Navy Yard and the Maritime Administration. Captain James S. Nolan, an honorable member of the USMMVWWII who holds commissions in the U.S. Naval Reserve, was instrumental in arranging with the U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command (MSC), to have the seagoing tug Narragansett tow the S.S. Lane Victory to San Pedro, California. The ship arrived in Los Angeles on June 12, 1989, where it was berthed at Pier 53. Refurbishment and restoration of the vessel was started by hundreds of volunteers.
On December 14. 1990 the Department of Interior, National Park Service, designated the S.S. Lane Victory as a National Historic Landmark. In 1994 the Los Angeles Harbor Department and Harbor Commissioners built a permanent home for the ship at Berth 94 next to the World Cruise Terminal and the Catalina Terminal in San Pedro. The ship is subject to vigorous inspections and must abide by all rules and regulations enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard.