By Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- The House has approved legislation by Rep. Steve Horn authorizing up to $500,000 in federal support for a planned memorial in San Pedro to the sacrifices of the U.S. merchant mariners during World War II.

The money will help fund an addition to the Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial, which is next to the Maritime Museum.

""We owe much to the brave mariners past and present who have served in the Merchant Marines,'' Horn, R-Long Beach, said in support of the bill. ""The American Merchant Marine Memorial Wall of Honor will symbolize the debt we owe to those who have served so bravely.''

Horn's legislation was included in the Maritime Policy Improvement Act, which the House passed Wednesday on a 415-3 vote. Senate passage is expected later this year.

The measure would authorize the secretary of transportation to make grants of up to $500,000 to the foundation building the memorial addition. That would be about half of the expected total cost of the project.

The authorization, if approved by the Senate and signed by the president, is only the first hurdle. Congressional supporters then must fight to get the money appropriated.

The addition to the memorial will be a series of polished black stone walls, similar to the Vietnam War Memorial here in Washington. The walls will be engraved with the names of the more than 700 U.S. civilian cargo ships that were sunk during World War II and the more than 7,000 merchant mariners who died in that war and later conflicts.

The memorial also will honor the merchant mariners who were held as prisoners of war or received the Distinguished Service Medal, one of the highest decorations for valor awarded to civilians in national service.

More than 250,000 men and women served in the U.S. Merchant Marines during World War II, crewing the ships that carried vital supplies to America's allies and to U.S. troops overseas. The ships were prime targets for German and Japanese submarines and aircraft.

The runs across the North Atlantic and into the Barents Sea to ports in the Soviet Union were particularly deadly, with some convoys losing half their ships. One of every 32 sailors serving on Merchant Marine vessels during the war died, a higher percentage of casualties than any of the armed services, Horn noted.

Despite their valuable service to the war effort and their high causalities, the merchant mariners were not recognized as veterans until 1988.