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Save the John W. Brown

The Baltimore Sun article, "Journalist and author Ruth Gruber dies in NY at age 105" (Nov. 18th) should be of interest to Baltimoreans and Marylanders for a number of reasons. Gruber's book, "Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America," depicted her conducting a shipload of Jewish refugees from Italy to the U.S. aboard the "USNS Henry Gibbins." The book was made in to a movie for television in 2000. Gruber and her daughter, Celia Michaels-Evans, appeared as refugees in the film. In the same year, Gruber was recognized as a "Woman of Distinction" by the Baltimore Chapter of Hadassah.

The ship used to depict the "Gibbins" in filming the movie was Baltimore's very own Liberty Ship "John W. Brown," which played its own heroic role during World War II, transporting troops and many tons of food and war materiel all over the world.

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Two thousand seven hundred such vessels were built during the war to compensate for our shipping losses. The "Brown," whose 75th birthday is in 2017 (it was launched two months before the "Gibbins"), was built in Baltimore by Bethlehem-Fairfield. It may well be the last fully operational vessel of its kind in the world and has served during war and peace, including many years as a high school for students interested in maritime careers. The "Brown" continues to serve as a special goodwill ambassador for Baltimore, inviting visitors and conducting cruises and training. The ship has managed to keep going mainly because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars of volunteer labor contributed by its incredible crew who work together as a devoted family.

The fate of the "Brown" is very uncertain, however. It does not have a permanent place to dock and needs to go in for full dry docking by 2019 or it will no longer be allowed to sail; it will die. If the public knew how much blood, sweat and toil have gone in to maintaining this vessel whose financial treasury is almost non-existent, there might be timely aid from public and private sources to save the ship. But there is no money to conduct a PR campaign. It is sincerely hoped that the public, government and private sector can contribute as many resources as possible to keep this remarkable vessel alive for future generations and help it to maintain its role as a goodwill ambassador for Baltimore, Maryland, and the United State. The "Brown" is in significant peril if Baltimore forgets its special child which not only is part of history but which, for many decades, has played a special role in making sure that history is not forgotten.

Peter I. Hartsock

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