Residents get floating history lesson Liberty ship opened for tour

May 24, 1993|By Bill Talbott | Bill Talbott,Staff Writer

Richard Stultz of Union Bridge served in the engine room of a Liberty Ship on numerous ocean crossings, and his love of ships continues today.

Norman L. Waltz of Westminster, who said he joined the Navy when he turned 17 as a change of pace from his life in rural Carroll County, spent three of his nearly nine years in the Navy working aboard Liberty ships.

They were joined by nearly 200 other Carroll residents aboard the SS John W. Brown -- one of a handful of remaining Liberty ships afloat out of a fleet of 2,700 -- at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

The ship, a memorial dedicated to the men and women who built, sailed and defended the wartime fleet, was opened for a guided tour to the county commissioners, delegates, mayors and other guests who journeyed from stem to stern and engine room to bridge.

Mr. Waltz, one of the Carroll County volunteers helping to restore the ship, joined the Navy on his 17th birthday and became a member of the Armed Guard and served on two Liberty ships from 1943 to 1946.

He served on one of the Liberty ships during the invasion of southern France, he said yesterday.

Mr. Stultz, meanwhile, received a plaque yesterday for his more than 1,000 hours of volunteer work to bring the vessel back to its original condition.

Both are members of Project Liberty, a group formed to help make the ship seaworthy in time for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion next year.

Built here at the Bethlehem Steel Fairfield Shipyard in 42 days and launched on Sept. 7, 1942, the 441-foot John W. Brown had a capacity of 500 troops and 10,000 tons of cargo. It was part of a fleet of hastily built ships that carried more than two-thirds of all supplies to military personnel during World War II.

The John W. Brown, like many sister ships, was operated by the merchant marine with a crew of 45 merchant seamen and 41 Navy armed guards, who manned the 5-foot gun on the stern, three 3-foot guns and eight 20-mm guns.

The ship's top speed was 11 knots when driven by a 2,500-horse power engine. The power plant is a double-acting, triple-expansion steam engine with two boilers operating on superheated steam.

"Without steam, everything stops," Mr. Stultz said.

Steam was essential for the ship's operation, not only for propulsion but to operate the lighting and steering systems and the lift winches.

Nautical high school

Later, the John W. Brown was on loan to New York City, where it became the only floating nautical high school in the United States until 1982.

The renovation is primarily a volunteer effort, though the state has contributed about $225,000 and the federal government turned over three other Liberty ships to the group. Money from the sale of those ships will help defray the estimated $1 million cost of renovations.

Steaming in convoy with two other Liberty ships, the John W. Brown will leave New York next May for Southampton, England. From there, the ships will cross the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy. On June 6, 1994, the ships will join a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe.

Yesterday's tour was sponsored by Lehigh Portland Cement Co. of Union Bridge, Random House and Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Co.

Plaque for donation

David Roush, plant manager at Lehigh Portland, where Mr. Stultz has long been an employee, was presented a plaque for the donation of a large lathe similar to those used on the ship during the war.

The group of Carroll volunteers includes an 8-year-old whose uncle is involved in the project. Carroll volunteers cited yesterday in addition to Mr. Stultz and Mr. Waltz included brothers "Reds" and Jack Miller, Leo Vogelsang, Jerry Fegar, Roger Lash, Jim Moran, John Bucheister and Stanley Stantor.

For more information, contact: Project Liberty Ship, P.O. Box 25846 Highlandtown Station, Baltimore, Md. 21224-0846.

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