Merchant Marine veterans chapter donates items to veterans nursing home
RIFLE — For decades, they dealt with the harsh reality of a government that refused to recognize them as veterans.
Today, the members of the Western Slope Chapter of the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II are facing diminishment in their ranks as comrades die.
The remaining members decided that a few maritime mementos belonging to the chapter needed a permanent home where they can remain long after the chapter is gone.
On Tuesday, they presented a ship’s bell and a model of a vintage clipper ship to the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home in Rifle.
Home administrator Paul Crook said it was an honor to receive the gifts. He also praised the work of Merchant Marine vets in providing logistical support during the war.
Thousands in the Merchant Marine died in attacks during the war as they worked to deliver cargo and otherwise support military operations.
“They really didn’t get recognition as veterans until 1988,” Crook said.
Joe Goldman, president of the residents council at the veterans home and a tail gunner in a B-17 during the war, said he recognized the role played by everyone participating in the war.
“Recognition as far as I’m concerned was recognizing the enemy rather than them recognizing me,” he added.
Grand Junction resident Bob Phillips, 87, said he joined the Merchant Marine when the military wouldn’t accept him because of his high blood pressure, and he still wanted to contribute to the war effort.
“I was glad to be able to do something. After all, some people don’t like to be told they can’t do things,” Phillips said.
His ship was targeted by Japanese bombers in the South Pacific, but Phillips said the planes were so high and their bomb sights so primitive that they posed no harm.
“It was just nice fireworks. That’s all it was,” he said.
While Phillips went to college, lack of veteran status kept him from benefiting from the GI Bill as war veterans had.
Rifle resident John Scalzo said he joined the Merchant Marine in 1942 because it was willing to accept him at age 17, after the Navy turned him down.
Scalzo said the Western Slope Chapter still meets monthly for breakfast at the Village Inn on Horizon Drive, but with everyone older than 85, there are now just five active members, down from around 25 at one time.
Member Harry Brauneis of Eckert previously owned the ship’s bell and clipper model, which is of a Coast Guard vessel, and had donated them to the chapter.