At the Museum of Veterans and Military History, this past week, we had visitors Ned and Carolyn Stanley.
Mr. Stanley served as a Merchant Marine and he shared his knowledge about the importance of Liberty Ships. During WWII and afterwards he served on 11 ships including four Liberty Ships, two troop transports and four tankers.
Mr. Stanley brought with him documentation showing that he received his training at the U.S. Maritime Training Service at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, N.Y. and obtained the ratings of boiler, fireman/water tender and lifeboat man. The documents were issued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
He said he volunteered for service at age 17, while in Houston and rode a train to Grand Central Station in N.Y. He recalls the celebrations in New York City for Victory in Europe Day, generally known as V-E Day--May 8, 1945.
A little research, we learned the Merchant Mariners were an all-volunteer civilian workforce that sailed thousands of vessels in harm’s way throughout that global conflict. These men paid a high price for their success, suffering the highest casualty rate of any service.
Without their support, our armed forces could not have even gotten overseas, much less been properly supplied as they fought their way to victory. A major element of America’s wartime merchant fleet was the Liberty Ships.
More Liberty Ships were built than any other class of sea-going vessels in the history of the world. Numbering 2,710, they were all mass-produced in less than five years. This all took place in the middle of a world war that placed extreme demands on the capabilities of the United States and its allies.
Not only did the men and women of America build Liberty Ships at an unprecedented rate, they also first constructed entire new shipyards for the sole purpose of building Liberty Ships.
A Liberty, according to our research, was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.
Liberty ships were named after prominent (deceased) Americans, starting with Patrick Henry and the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Liberty’s carried a crew of about 44 and 12 to 25 naval armed guard. Some were armed with: •One 3-inch bow gun; one 4or 5 inch stern gun; two 37 mm bow guns and six 20 mm machine guns.
About 200 Liberty’s were lost to torpedoes, mines, explosions, kamikazes, etc. during WWII. Two Liberty ships, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco and the SS John W. Brown in Baltimore, survive as "museum ships" open to the public for tours and occasional cruises.
We enjoy hearing first-hand the stories of those who served.
The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., every Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Also, we open for group tours with reservations. For information, call 501-796-8181.