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The S.S. John W. Brown Liberty ship carried cargo during World War II. It's home port is Baltimore.
The S.S. John W. Brown Liberty ship carried cargo during World War II. It's home port is Baltimore. (Courtesy of Project Liberty Ship)

Colin Campbell’s article (“A rare Liberty ship has been part of Baltimore history since World War II. Now its home here is in jeopardy," Nov 12) is a welcome follow-up to his article about the S.S. John W. Brown last year, and especially so with the future of the vessel being more stark than ever.

Several points of clarification. The ship losing its home is far more than just that. Without a secure berth, the vessel will probably perish. Related, the crew calls the vessel “Baltimore’s best kept secret” because there is no money for public relations. A major story in its own right, which somehow never gets out, is that the S.S. Brown is owned by Project Liberty Ship, the nonprofit organization that restored and maintains the ship through the help of volunteers. The only reason the ship has survived is because of the 1.9 million hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of volunteer labor (no one gets paid), which the crew has faithfully and unceasingly put into the ship. And that’s not just chipping paint. It includes highly skilled labor which enables the original engines and other parts of the ship (which was launched in 1942) to operate.

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A story as big as the ship itself is that of its crew, which constitutes the true soul of the S.S. Brown. Without the crew and its superhuman sacrifices, the ship would have vanished long ago. The U.S. built 2,700 of these vessels during the war to keep up with our huge shipping losses.They hauled over 80% of everything we shipped everywhere during the war. They kept Britain from starving during the conflict and Europe from starving after the war. Some of the ships were built in four days, and all were a miracle of American productivity, commitment ingenuity and grit. One reason our Liberty ships are so little known is due to the then wartime federal policy which forbade publishing the names of such vessels which had been sunk in order to not confirm German estimates of how many “kills” they thought they had made. That may have served some purpose long ago, but it was a curse which followed the crews to their dying days.

These men were “invisible” and denied so-called “benefits" — really debts we owed and continue to owe them — and had some of the highest mortality rates of the war. Their battle to “win” what they had already won (the U.S. Merchant Marine crewed the ships and U.S. Navy Armed Guard manned the guns protecting the ships) was, and still is, sad and disgraceful to the memory of these brave mariners. If this country ever finds it has a conscience, then it should help those heroes and their families and come to the rescue of another great hero as well — the Liberty Ship S.S. John W. Brown, which is a true Baltimore baby. Its steel was produced at Bethlehem Sparrows Point and the vessel was built at the Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard. The S.S. Brown truly deserves to be able to come home for good.

Peter Hartsock, Laytonsville

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