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Shannon Wall, 87; headed National Maritime Union

February 13, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Shannon J. Wall, a former president of the National Maritime Union who lobbied for veterans status for men who sailed on merchant ships during World War II, has died. He was 87.

Wall died of complications related to old age Feb. 2 at his home in Sequim, Wash., said his daughter, Maureen Hope Wall.

Although about 250,000 merchant seamen were pressed into combat-style duty during World War II, the U.S. did not recognize them as veterans until more than four decades later.

The long-delayed designation by the Defense Department in 1988 was one of Wall's chief accomplishments during his union presidency, according to the National Maritime Historical Society in Peekskill, N.Y.

Founded in 1937, the union had 100,000 members at its peak during World War II, but by 1981 membership had dwindled by half.

Wall became the union's second president when he took over in 1973.

"Shannon Wall had the thankless job of presiding over the union's decline," Peter Stanford, the historical society's former president, told The Times. "He came on the scene when the flight of American-owned shipping lines to foreign flag -- which meant they didn't have to employ Americans -- was going full boil."

He served for 15 years and oversaw the group's merger with another large maritime union, District 1 of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn., in 1988.

In 1986, Wall was appointed to the five-member presidential Commission on Merchant Marine and Defense, which issued several reports about the nation's declining maritime industry.

Born March 4, 1919, in Portland, Ore., Wall grew up in Seattle. His parents ran a dry-cleaning business.

During World War II, he was a merchant seaman and boatswain on freight and troop carriers in the South Pacific.

In 1951, he took his first union post -- as a port patrolman in San Francisco -- and began moving through the ranks. He worked in San Pedro in 1954 and headed east, raising his family in New Jersey.

Upon retiring in the early 1990s, he settled in Sequim, near Port Angeles, Wash., and honed his sailing skills on his 35-foot cutter, Argo.

In addition to his daughter, Wall is survived by his wife of 55 years, Lucy; sons Sean and Kevin; and three grandchildren.

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