MERCHANT MARINE SURVIVORS OF WORLD WAR II
The ship loomed ahead at a Hudson River pier as I made my way slowly southward in the morning mist along New York City's West Side Highway. With its flush-deck profile, characteristically capped stack, and wartime gun tubs still in place, the ship was unmistakably a Liberty, a merchant cargo ship type built in unprecedented numbers in the United States during World War II. This was early 1978—more than 32 years after the end of the war—and by then a Liberty ship was already a rare sight to behold, as most had been scrapped, relegated to a few "boneyard" reserve fleets, or converted by ignominious fate into such things as stationary fish processing plants. A few others were still tramping around the world, no doubt, under foreign flag, but they were few and far between, their days certainly also numbered. She was, I soon found out, the SS John W. Brown, a veteran of many wartime voyages. She was then being used, as she had since soon after the war ended, as a stationary school ship for teaching the maritime trades. Her days were numbered too for such use, and I learned she had already become the focus of a preservation effort spearheaded by the fledgling Project Liberty Ship under the aegis of the National Maritime Historical Society. My involvement in that project, as editor of its first newsletter, assistant director, and then director, proved ultimately successful, but not until a dedicated group had taken the helm and initiative in Baltimore to return the ship to that city, where she had been launched in 1942. As so often happens, one thing led to another, and it was through my involvement with Project Liberty Ship, and other work in New York that actually paid a salary, that seeds were sown for this oral history of the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II...
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