A Liberty Ship Comes to New London

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Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library 

     Two Liberty ships have miraculously survived into the 21st century in operating condition, thanks to teams of volunteers:  the John W. Brown, based in Baltimore, and the Jeremiah O'Brien in San Francisco. As floating museums they take visitors back to the war years when they and their 2708 sister ships served as lifelines for the armed forces.  The John W. Brown is owned and operated by Project Liberty Ship, offering six-hour "Living History Cruises" in Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere on the eastern seaboard.  

     In 2003 a group of New Londoners invited the John W. Brown to participate in the May 22 National Maritime Day ceremonies at Fort Trumbull. A souvenir booklet, LIVE, was published by Project Liberty Ship specifically for the New London cruise, its title and design patterned after LIFE Magazine, the popular weekly that kept Americans informed about the war through incomparable photojournalism and eyewitness reports. The well illustrated booklet was packed with historical details about the Brown, the war, and the Merchant Marine, and called special attention to the officers school that had been in operation at Fort Trumbull sixty years before. A four-page history of the school was one of several background articles, and vintage advertising added to the booklet's retro appearance.  

     The goal of the Living History Cruise was (and still is) to provide passengers with "a brief glimpse back at conditions on a merchant ship during the war and allow [them] to experience that part of history." Entertainment was offered during the six-hour trip: in addition to touring the ship and enjoying lunch, passengers were treated to live music by "Tuxedo Junction" and the barbershop quartet "Four of a Kind;" actors performed as General George S. Patton, President and Mrs. Roosevelt, and the 1940s comedy team Abbott and Costello; and noisy flyovers by vintage warplanes included a B-25J bomber -- "Steaming into the dangerous waters of Long Island Sound...All hands should be alert for possible air attack!"

     This was the second visit to New London by the John W. Brown.  The earlier one, in 1997, may have been the first visit of a Liberty ship since those of the training ship American Mariner, a modified Liberty ship, which called at Fort Trumbull during the war years to provide officer candidates with a real-life shipboard experience.

     

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