, Heritage writer
War is hell.
One of the grim metrics of conflict is the casualty rate. During World War II no branch of the U.S. Armed Forces suffered as high a proportion as those who served in the American Merchant Marine – and who weren’t even in the military. Merchant mariners suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service, losing 3.9 percent of their 243,000 members, more than the 3.7 percent of the U.S. Marines.
An earlier blog post laid out the background on the role of the wartime Merchant Marine and their struggle for respect and benefits. This year two legislators introduced HR563, the World War II Merchant Mariners Act, which would recognize surviving seamen “for their bravery and sacrifice” and award them $25,000 each.
However, few know of the support that famed World War II shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser offered those mariners during the war, and how that support exemplified his commitment to nondiscrimination in serving communities.
With the urging of maritime unions, the United Seamen’s Service was created August 8, 1942, by the War Shipping Administration with the approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It sought to provide facilities for rest, recreation and safety for seafarers who carried troops and war materials to ports in the war zones. Eventually more than 125 locations would be established worldwide.
It was turned over for private operation and ownership on September 13, 1942. Henry J. Kaiser was the first president, and the War Shipping Administration’s Admiral Emory S. Land was chairman of the board. Joseph Curran, of the National Maritime Union, and Harry Lundeberg, of the National Seafarer’s Union, were vice presidents.
“United Seamen’s Service Opens Recreational Club” in The New York Age from October 17, 1942, touted the the first USS facility. The club was named for Andrew Furuseth (1854-1938), a central figure in the formation of two influential maritime unions: the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the International Seamen’s Union. A Kaiser-built Liberty ship named for Furuseth would be launched from Kaiser Richmond shipyard number 1 the next month, on September 7.
Officers and men of the American Merchant Marine, many of them survivors of ships sunk by the enemy, cheered as the United Seamen’s Service opened for their exclusive use, the first of a coastal chain of recreational clubs at 30 East 37th street.
The staid, brownstone, four story building, owned by Mrs. Julius S. Morgan and situated within a few doors of J.P. Morgan’s home, was “dressed” for the occasion from roof to basement with code flags and burgees, as a band played nautical airs. Accustomed to cramped accommodations aboard ship, the seamen praised the club’s spacious and luxuriously appointed lounge rooms, game rooms, library, and the dance floor with its modernistic bar.
Speaking at the opening of the club, Douglas P. Falconer, national director of United Seamen’s Service, declared that the neglect of human needs of seamen was a disgrace to the nation. He promised that his organization would do its utmost to “rub out that disgrace.”
In describing the program of the United, Seamen’s Service…Mr. Falconer said: “We’ll look after every American seaman picked up by a rescue ship and landed in a strange port far from home. If he needs medical care, well see that he gets it on the spot. We’ll replace his lost clothes and papers, notify his folk at home. We’ll see that he gets proper food and rest and freedom from worry over how he’s going to get back home and on another ship. For that’s all the men themselves ask is a chance to get patched up so that they can go to sea again!
A postcard for the club noted that, in addition to coffee and home-cooked food, the club had “medical and social services staff in daily attendance.” That’s care and coverage together.
A January, 1943, article “All Seamen Are the Same” in The Crisis (the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) praised the USS’s impact in the fight against racism and discrimination:
The United Seamen’s Service is outstanding in that the set-up makes no provision for discrimination because of race or creed. Rest homes are planned in many of the southern seaboard communities where merchant seamen will live together without special provisions being made for Negroes…
With the existence of separate USO [United Service Organizations] centers within the army camps and separate canteens for white and Negro soldiers, the action of the United Seamen’s Service presents a lesson in practical democracy that may well be copied by many other groups, including the United States Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.
Henry J. Kaiser was called the “Patriot in Pinstripes” for his contributions during World War II, but his social justice legacy extended to Home Front veterans without uniforms as well.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1QwHP0x
Blog updated 11/20/2015
, Heritage writer
By now, everyone’s heard the jokes about the new International Classification of Diseases, the disease and health problem taxonomy standard managed by the World Health Organization. ICD is the latest in a series of efforts to classify diseases, starting in the 1850s. Originally called the International List of Causes of Death, the WHO assumed responsibility for the ICD when the organization was created in 1948. ICD version 10 (or ICD-10) is the newest code set. October 1 is the date on which ICD-10 compliance is required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
With 68,000 discrete diagnosis codes (as opposed to the previous 14,000), we are now able to define diagnoses at a very precise level of detail. Very, very, precise – such as “V97.33XD: Sucked into jet engine, subsequent encounter” or “Y92.146: Swimming-pool of prison as the place of occurrence of the external cause.” Yes, these are actual codes.
But, jokes aside, precise classification has its merits. It strengthens the storage and retrieval of diagnostic information for clinical, epidemiological and quality purposes. ICD descriptors also provide the basis for the compilation of national mortality and morbidity statistics. Kaiser Permanente has actively joined other health care providers in this massive project.
However, Kaiser health care practitioners during World War II were also trying to use precise descriptions to improve health, in a slightly different way.
In May, 1944, the 627-page dense tome Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis was published as a joint project of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and the Occupational Analysis and Manning Tables division of Region XII War Manpower Commission. The physician in charge of the study was Clifford Kuh, MD.
One of the primary goals of the Analysis was to make sure that individuals were assigned to jobs which they could perform without risk to their health. The study detailed 617 distinct job titles in the shipyards, from “Asbestos Worker, Cutter” to “Window Cleaner.” Although the Richmond shipyards did have the opportunity to use pre-placement physical examinations prior to hiring, the study provided the basis for accurate review of work-related health problems and suggestions for reassignment. During a short three-month survey period, only three workers had to leave their assigned job due to physical failure. During the four war years Kaiser’s yards employed almost 200,000 people.
An article in the Call Bulletin touted the survey, quoting William K. Hopkins, regional director of the United States War Manpower Commission:
“While the study has in mind the placement of all workers, the technique on which it is based will be invaluable in the post-war period – when tens of thousands of returning service men and women will have to be fitted into new jobs. I am particularly impressed with the study’s positive approach in emphasizing what a worker has the physical capacities to do, rather than the handicaps, often minor, which tend to prejudice his employment.”
Kaiser Permanente, building and using precise medical data for social benefit since 1944.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1O5V9GK