A shipload of history Restoration: A program will be held Sunday in Uniontown to raise funds for re-riveting the Liberty ship John W. Brown, one of two remaining from World War II.

February 13, 1997|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Fifty-five years ago, the John W. Brown sailed the world's oceans, carrying cargo and troops to the hot spots of World War II.

Today, one of two remaining Liberty ships, the ship sits at Pier I off Clinton Street in Baltimore, close to where it was built at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Fairfield shipyard in the early 1940s.

Returned to Baltimore in 1988, the John W. Brown has been restored to the point that it is "a complete viable ship, not involved in the shipping trade but on the Historic Register," said Richard Stultz of Union Bridge, one of 42 crew members who sail the ship short distances along the East Coast.

"After the war, the government gave the Brown to New York City to train youths who were interested in a seagoing career," Stultz said. "New York kept the ship until 1982, then gave it back to the government, and they put it in the James River Reserve Fleet, where it sat until 1988."

Project Liberty Ship, a group of ship enthusiasts from around the world who have raised money and worked for nine years to renovate this piece of naval history, saved the John W. Brown.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, Project Liberty Ship will have an Adopt-a-Rivet program at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8806 on Penrose Street in Union Bridge. The group's goal is to raise $150,000 to replace 2,600 worn rivets under the ship's engine.

"Two weeks before the D-Day 50th anniversary celebration in 1994, the Coast Guard stopped us from going to Normandy because the rivets under the engine were deteriorated to the point that they were afraid a seam would open up in rough seas," Stultz said.

Veterans, the ship's crew and state officials have been invited to participate in Sunday's program. The John W. Brown's master, Capt. Paul Esbensen, will review Liberty ships' history and purpose in World War II, and Joe Colgan will talk about the life of a Navy armed guard on board a Liberty ship.

Ted Taddie will discuss "The Lone Sailor," and David Aldworth will provide information about the John W. Brown's page on the Internet.

"The wheel of the very first Liberty ship, the S.S. Patrick Henry, will be on display," Stultz said. "It was salvaged just before the ship was scrapped."

Stultz said the main purpose of the program is to tell the history of Liberty ships, particularly the John W. Brown.

Stultz, the ship's fireman and water tender in the engine room, is one of eight Carroll residents on the John W. Brown's crew. Crew and Project Liberty Ship members spend two days a week working on the ship, which also is a museum used to teach visitors World War II naval history.

On Feb. 4, the Governor's Consulting Committee approved the nomination of the John W. Brown, one of more than 2,700 Liberty ships built during World War II, to the Maryland Historical Trust's Historic Register.

"We were losing ships so fast in the war that the government came up with this modified armada that was produced on an assembly line, so to speak," Stultz said.

The government leased the ships to shipping companies, which provided civilian crews. Navy personnel were also aboard to operate the ships' weapons.

Project Liberty Ship members have raised half the amount they need to re-rivet under the engine, which is 21 feet long, 19 feet wide and weighs 118 tons, and have hired a company in Ohio to do the work.

"In time, we need to re-rivet the whole ship, and that will cost $1 million," Stultz said.

In recent years, the group has restored the engine room so that the ship is operational. Rivets under the engine need to be replaced because the "ship is 441 feet long and can carry 10,000 tons of cargo," Stultz said. "The Liberty ships were valuable because of the huge amount of cargo they could carry."

Anyone interested in donating to or joining Project Liberty Ship can write Project Liberty Ship, Department R, P.O. Box 25846, Highlandtown Station, Baltimore 21224-0846; or call the ship Wednesdays or Saturdays at (410) 661-1550.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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