WASHINGTON, D.C. - A Westfield native was honored this past Memorial Day for his work in World War II 68 years after his service.
On Monday, May 27 Deputy Maritime Administrator Paul "Chip" Jaenichen, along with other distinguished guests, participated in an event at the World War II Memorial commemorating these servicemen and their sacrifice. This year's proceedings were especially unique because of a special ceremony where veteran merchant mariner James Van Splunder was finally awarded his service medals.
Van Splunder, a native of Westfield, N.Y., served in World War II as a merchant mariner from 1944 through 1945, with a total of 401 days at sea. His service during that time - delivering ammunition and other combat essentials - took him all over the world supporting our national security.
Westfield native James Van Splunder, far right, and his sons, who are also servicemen, pose with the U.S. Merchant Marine wreath along with Deputy Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen, behind Van Splunder, after Van Splunder was awarded five medals for his service during World War II in a Memorial Day celebration in Washington, D.C., on Monday, May 27.
Called the "fourth arm of defense," by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, more than 215,000 U.S. Merchant Marines served our nation during World War II. The war effort relied on merchant mariners to get troops, ammunition and essential equipment to all corners of the world.
Throughout the war effort they delivered nearly 270 billion long tons of cargo all over the globe. In 1945 alone, mariners delivered an average of 17 million pounds of cargo every hour.
Their commitment and service was invaluable. And it was not without risk.
Despite one of the highest casualty rates of any service branch during World War II, members of the Merchant Marine were not considered veterans until 1988. Only then did Congress turn its attention to supplementing the existing war zone bars with medals as additional recognition for World War II merchant mariners.
Mariners like Van Splunder, all of whom were volunteers, served their nation capably and courageously through sealift operations supporting our military efforts overseas. By honoring their service, it helps ensure their devotion and sacrifice are not forgotten.
On Monday, it was again celebrated that "last full measure of devotion" alongside the sacrifice of their fellow veterans.
Van Splunder, 91, who now lives in Holland, served in the Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and the Navy Reserves. He and his wife of 66 years made the trip to the nation's capital with their five children, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Van Splunder received five medals he earned many years ago. His family secretly worked with officials in Washington to have the medals presented during the Memorial Day Service.