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Vintage cargo ship still carries the freight.

Among the assortment of vessels gathered for the start of the latest leg of the Volvo Ocean Race off Annapolis, Md., was a vintage ship from another era.

The Liberty Ship John W. Brown carried more than 400 race and history buffs to the starting point of Leg 7 of the around-the-world sailing race April 28.

On the oceans of the world today, Liberty ships are an anachronism. There are only two left. The Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien is in San Francisco. Both vessels are operated as living museums--with all-volunteer crews.

Many will say that Liberty Ships won World War II. There were 2,710 of the ships built at 18 shipyards during the conflict. The Liberty Ships, built in an average of 30 days, carried two-thirds of all cargo the left the United States during World War II. The Liberty Ships each could carry about 10,000 tons of cargo--the equivalent of 300 railroad cars.

The ships were the primary means of transporting the goods and equipment of the "Arsenal of Democracy," as coined by President Franklin Roosevelt, to the distant military theaters of the global conflict.

Some 200 of the Liberty Ships were lost to enemy action, accident or storm during the war. Hundreds of Liberty Ship members were among the 7,000 Merchant Seamen and 1,800 U.S. Navy Armed Guards that were lost in the conflict.

The John Brown made nine voyages in World War II, and then four immediately afterward. These days, things are different. A large part of military cargoes is handled by commercial ships managed by the Army's Military Traffic Management Command.

The Volvo Race was the 47th trip voyage the John Brown has made as part of Project Liberty Ship, of Baltimore. Nostalgia buffs and sailing race fans watched the contemporary Chesapeake shoreline--and listened to old-timers who were in the fight again.

Tom Gross, 76, stares from the fantail of the John Brown at picturesque cottages and brightly colored sail boats. When World War II ended in August 1945, 20-year-old Tom Gross was on convalescent leave at his parent's home on Long Island. He wanted to go to New York City's Times Square to celebrate. His mother urged him to remain at home, which he did. Gross, just past his teenage years, was a world traveler. He had been an Armed Guard on numerous ships and sailed in both Atlantic and Pacific waters.

"We sailed all over," said Gross. "Kwajalein, the Solomons, and all over Europe. Mostly, I was on tankers that sailed alone at high speed."

In the heat of the South Pacific, Gross shortened his cot, and squeezed it under the ship's stern gun mount in order to sleep in comfort. After the war, Gross worked in performing maintenance at power plants. Today, he is retired and living in Reading, Pa.

George Macey, 81, had a similar wartime career. He remembered one trip when his ship had turbine problems and came into the Navy base at Bayonne, N.J. Cranes and lumber were lined up to perform necessary, high-speed, repair.

"They started to repair the ship as soon as we came in," said Macey.

A short time later, Macey's ship was taking on cargo in New York Harbor.

Looking back, Macey said the escort vessel refueling missions his tanker ship performed on the Arctic Circle were most memorable.

"I spent 11 months working along the Arctic Circle, working out of Iceland," said Macey, who said he later appreciated missions to the warmer climates of the Pacific Ocean.

Along the way, Macey returned to his father's nursery business in Glen Burnie, Md. He did not stay long.

"It was the same old plow and the same old mule," said Macey. "I was so glad to get home but I was in the dol-drums within two to three weeks."

Later, Macey went back to school under the GI Bill. In later years he made his living in the heating, ventilating and air conditioning business.

It is all quite fascinating to Kathy Bauer, of Saginaw, Mich.

"I have been to a lot of museums," said Bauer, "but it all comes alive on the John Brown. The stories the veterans tell are never really chronicled in history books." Her husband, Bill, agreed.

"This is a voyage in history on a contemporary course," said Bauer. I came many miles for this opportunity--I would certainly come a great many more if I had too."

Gray skies, mist and rain shroud the John Brown's voyage to the Volvo start. Water drips from overhead wires and structure and seeps into hatchways. Minutes before the sailing race start, the mists even cover the top of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge starting line. Then, it is precisely 1 p.m. Like gray ghosts, the Volvo yachts surge across the starting line headed south. The next stop for these eight magnificent sailing machines is an ocean away.

Aboard John Brown, spectators watch the swift sailing boats with awe and fascination.

Later, on the homeward voyage, the sun comes out. Ship's members pour from cramped compartments and companionways. Wet weather gear comes off and warm canvas-covered sailing hatches become a community park. Sailing on a sunlit sea is a joy.

RELATED ARTICLE: Ship's history spans over half a century.

From the laying of the keel, to final shakedown, it took a total of 56 days, and $1.75 million, to build the John W. Brown.

The 441-foot vessel was the 62nd Liberty Ship built by the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, in Baltimore. John Brown had a top speed of 11 knots. Based on British plans, the vessel was modified to conform to American practices and to make full use of mass production methods.

Beginning in September 1942, the vessel made 13 voyages for the military. John Brown's first voyage was to the Persian Gulf. The vessel then became the first, of what would eventually be 220 Liberty Ships, converted to "limited capacity troopships." For the majority of the war, the John Brown was used to Ferry Allied troops, and even German prisoners, among ports in North Africa, Italy and Southern France. Following the end of the war, the ship made four additional voyages.

From 1946 to 1982, the vessel served as a floating high school in New York City for students interested in a maritime career. With the school's closing, the ship was towed to the U.S. Maritime Administration's James Rive Reserve Fleet, in Newport News, Va. John Brown was towed to Baltimore in August 1988 to become part of Project Liberty Ship.
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Title Annotation:Liberty Ship John W. Brown
Publication:Translog
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5MD
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:1090
Previous Article:Commander starts thousands in race.
Next Article:Transporters provide hands--on deployment skills. (Army-Reserve Partnership).
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