By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
Feb 13, 2013 at 4:33 PM
Theodore A. "Ted" Dietz, a retired shipyard electrician who earned the sobriquet of "40-Watt Dietz" from fellow volunteer crew members aboard the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown, died Feb. 3 of heart failure at his Severna Park home. He was 91.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Dietz was a 1942 graduate of Franklin K. Lane High School.
"He enlisted into the Navy before he formally graduated from high school and his mother received his diploma," said his wife of two years, the former Mary Bartlett.
"I concentrated on art in school, had a terrible time with English. I did some painting, some commercial design," Mr. Dietz told Ernest F. Imhoff, a former Baltimore Sun editor who wrote "Good Shipmates: The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown."
"I graduated a month after Pearl Harbor, when I was twenty," he said. "My [high school] adviser was a reserve commander in the Navy. He said, 'Go in the Navy. You get a place to eat and sleep.'"
The Navy sent Mr. Dietz to electrical school and then mine school, after which he joined the crew of a minesweeper as an electrician.
Because Mr. Dietz suffered constant bouts of seasickness, his commander had him transferred off the USS Tide, which was sent to Normandy and was sunk a day after the June 6, 1944, invasion, after striking a mine.
"Being seasick saved my life," he told Mr. Imhoff.
Mr. Dietz later joined the crew of the USS Wyoming, a gunnery training battleship that sailed the Chesapeake Bay, where he learned how to rewind AC and DC motors and attained the rank of second class electrician.
Mr. Dietz remained in the Navy after the war, where he was a chief warrant officer and later public information officer. He served aboard the San Marcos, LSD 15, which was the lead ship in the 1962 Bay of Pigs Invasion.
After being discharged in 1962, Mr. Dietz went to work the next year at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., where he was an estimator until retiring in 1983.
He later worked as a marine consultant with MARserv LC in the late 1980s.
Mr. Dietz was in his 50s when he earned a college degree in 1976 from Anne Arundel Community College, which he attended with his son.
He became involved with the John W. Brown in 1988 after agreeing to become chief electrician. When he visited the ship, he told Mr. Imhoff, "Oh my God, they have no idea what they're in for."
After inspecting the electrical system of the ship, which had been idle in the James River National Defense Reserve Fleet for five years, Mr. Dietz pronounced it "deplorable" and set about rewiring it.
In what seemed like an almost impossible undertaking, Mr. Dietz and his crew were able to make the ship electrically operable in three years and in time for its first voyage in 1991.
"His work didn't stop with wiring. In recent years he and his crew made many other ship improvements such as an electronically enhanced public address system, a new fire alarm protection system, emergency fire control stations on the bridge and in the engine room and repairing other devices," Mr. Imhoff said in an interview.
As "chief power saver," said Mr. Imhoff, Mr. Dietz earned the nickname of "40-Watt Dietz" for his "constant incantations of 'Turn off the lights,' or 'Shut the doors' or 'Buy small light bulbs.'"
Mr. Dietz continued working on the Liberty ship until the end of November 2012, said Mr. Imhoff.
He was a tireless crusader for the ship and handed out brochures in order to get new members to join Project Liberty Ship, which owns and operates the John W. Brown.