A bronze duplicate of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Merchant Mariners of World War II.

A bronze duplicate of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Merchant Mariners of World War II. (U.S. Mint)

ST. PETER (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar considers a 96-year-old St. Peter military veteran an inspiring example of what it means to serve selflessly, honorably and boldly.

Earl "Sonny" Meyer, who was a merchant mariner in World War II, was honored during a ceremony Monday at St. Peter's American Legion Post. Family along with fellow members of the Legion and Disabled American Veterans were there to see staff from Klobuchar's office present his prestigious award.

"It was all very interesting," said Meyer, describing the presentation of a Congressional Gold Medal.

"Our veteran service officer told me he'd looked up information about it (the medal) and asked if I'd let him go ahead and get it for me," he said.

The medal, first commissioned to show national appreciation to those who served in the American Revolution, is the highest civilian honor Congress bestows. Honorees are people whose dedication and heroism to this country have made a lasting impact, stated a press release from Klobuchar's office.

The Minnesota senator helped pass the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act in 2020. The legislation recognizes merchant mariners for their service in the war.

The U.S. Merchant Marine is comprised of civilian mariners and U.S. civilian and federally owned merchant vessels who work together with the military to transport goods and services in and out of navigable waters. In peacetime, merchant mariners transport cargo and passengers on ships and other vessels. In wartime, the Merchant Marine can be an auxiliary to the U.S. Navy and its mariners may be called on to deliver military personnel and materiel.

"We were civilians, but the military told us what to do and where to go," said Meyer, who was 18 when he chose to be a merchant mariner.

"I crossed the Atlantic seven or eight times, but I never got to be on the Pacific Ocean."

"It was kind of strange to be from a place so far away from the ocean ... but actually, I was one of three or four merchant marines from St. Peter and two of those fellas I knew pretty well."

"The Merchant Marines played a vital role in World War II by providing supplies to all the branches of the military while often under attack by enemy combatants. A higher proportion of the Mariners were killed than any other branch of the United States military," Klobuchar's wrote in a letter to Meyer.

"There is no greater duty than putting your life on the line in a time of war to keep us all safe, and time and time again, you answered that call. The American people are grateful for your service, your sacrifice, your patriotism," the senator continued.

Meyer was among about 250,000 merchant mariners who delivered supplies and armed personnel by ship to ports around the world. Between 1939 and 1945, 9,521 merchant mariners lost their lives, according to the National World War II Museum.

"I never got hurt in World War II ... I was injured by a 3-inch to 4-inch mortar fragment piece in Korea," said Meyer who was a member of the member of the U.S. Army in the early 1950s.

There are about 12,000 surviving merchant mariners, each of whom is eligible to receive the bronze replica of the award.

Klobuchar was unable to attend the Monday ceremony. Meyer graciously gave her a pass since the two have talked in person a few times already.

"She knows I met her dad (Jim) when we were at (Army) boot camp together," he said.

Since 1776, the Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded 184 times. A list of recipients from 1776-2022 is available at: starting on Page 19.

(c)2023 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

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