Francis Prest, Merchant Mariner, Receives Accolades 68 Years After Discharge

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The Telegram shares a story on January 2nd, 2014 of a World War II veteran, Francis O. Prest.

Mr. Prest told the US marines that he was 18 when he joined the service, when he was actually only 16 years old. After 68 years since he was discharged from the military, he finally received medals and citations for his service.

US Rep. James P. McGovern cited Mr. Prest at the congressman’s East Worcester Street office. Although the federal court in Washington DC stated in 1988 that any merchant mariners could prove they fought in WWII, they were entitled to veterans’ benefits; however, the government wasn’t very swift about getting the word out.

His son, retired US Marine John Prest of Rochdale, found out about his father’s eligibility when he read an article in a Connecticut newspaper. It was john Prest who ensured that his father got the recognition that he deserved.

AS McGovern spoke, Francis Prest’s daughter, Joeann Zona wiped the tears from her father’s eyes. John Prest and his sister, Carrie, were also teary.

The family gathered under the farce of a family portrait in order to surprise, according to Ms. Zona.

Francis Prest’s wife, Lousia Rose (Germain) Prest passed away this past April merely days before her 85th birthday often said he was fortunate to have the family he does.

“I’m always at their house eating; they took good care of me,” he said.

His son-in-law, Joe Zona, said, “I think it’s about time he’s been recognized. He’s a good man.”

John Prest serviced in the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1987. He contacted J. Don Horton, a Merchant Marine veteran who was a president of WWII Coastwise Merchant Mariners.

After he sent Mr. Horton an email, John Prest said that Mr. Horton responded within 10 minutes and gave John Prest the information that he needed so that he could contact the federal officials in Virginia and Washington.

“I called them and of course they were terrific because World War II vets are dying quickly; not many are left. They understand. As soon as I talked to him they got the ball rolling,” the son said.

It only took a few weeks before Francis’s separation papers from the Marines.

The son stated that he contacted Mr. McGovern because he wanted his father’s receipts of accolades that would be “really meaningful.”

The Merchant Marine was the fleet of ships that carried imports and exports during peace time. During times of conflict, they became a naval auxiliary to deliver troops and war materials.

The men in the Merchant Marines preferred to be called mariners; however, they could also be called seamen, seafarers, and sailors. The organization said that the men should not be called Marines though.

Because they weren’t recognized as veterans, Francis Prest never received the benefits that veterans are allotted. This includes the educations, health, and low interest loans… Among other veteran benefits stated under the GI Bill.

John Prest stated that this isn’t about the benefits, but now it is more about the recognition.

“He was in harm’s way,” John Prest said.

3.9 percent of merchant mariners suffered a higher percentage of casualties during World War II than any other branch of the service. Prest said that one in 26 seamen were killed. More than 5,600 mariners were killed while at sea as a “direct result of enemy action or as prisoners of war,” the organization stated.

Francis Prest was flanked by his grandchildren Samantha, Melissa, and Elizabeth Prest. Achille, Amber, and Alicia Setaro; Jamie Lussier, Glen Zona, Joseph Zona III; and great-grandchildren Aydreanna and Alyia Zona, Mia and Giavanna Lussier and Lorili and Ryleigh Setaro.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE