John C. Rhodes, 79, Navy veteran helped restore Liberty ship

July 24, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John C. Rhodes, a World War II Navy veteran who helped restore the John W. Brown as a longtime Project Liberty Ship volunteer, died of leukemia Monday at his home in Millers. He was 79.

A Baltimore native who was raised in the Hamilton section, he graduated from Polytechnic Institute.

Mr. Rhodes enlisted in the Navy in 1941. As a gunner's mate, he was a member of the Armed Guard, which operated defensive guns that protected ships from aerial and submarine attacks. He served aboard Liberty ships, an aircraft carrier, tankers and landing craft in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

During the Normandy invasion, he was aboard LCIR 770, a rocket fire support vessel, and had a narrow escape after ships in front and back of LCIR 770 were sunk by enemy fire.

FOR THE RECORD - John C. Rhodes: An obituary published Wednesday for Mr. Rhodes omitted the name of a surviving daughter, LuEllen Schofield of Baltimore. The Sun regrets the error.

After his Navy discharge in 1946, Mr. Rhodes returned to Baltimore and worked as a watchmaker and later at the Bendix Frieze instrument manufacturing plant in Towson for 15 years. From 1965 until his retirement in 1985, he repaired label printing machines manufactured by Dennison Co. in Baltimore.

A handsome man with a ruddy complexion and easy smile, Mr. Rhodes became interested in the John W. Brown when the venerable Liberty ship - afloat in the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia after years of use by New York City as a nautical high school - was moved to Baltimore by Project Liberty Ship in 1988.

The 4,700-ton vessel, built in 1942 at Bethlehem Steel's Fairfield Yard in Baltimore, is docked in Canton - one of two Liberty ships in use across the nation.

Mr. Rhodes, who was known as Jack, joined the hearty band of John W. Brown volunteers - many of whom had served in the Navy, merchant marine or in shipyards during World War II - to put the old ship back in operating condition.

The particular focus of Mr. Rhodes' restoration efforts was the Armed Guard's quarters on the aft end of the ship.

"He was one of our very early volunteers. He'd come down to the ship two or three times a week. He was easygoing, hard-working and very conscientious," said Joe Colgan of Ocean Pines, commander of the Brown's Armed Guard unit and a World War II Navy veteran.

"He'd even take woodwork home, which he worked on in his workshop. He also helped restore the Armed Guard mess and the ship's merchant marine mess," he said.

Joseph F. Wieczorek, a volunteer who worked side by side with Mr. Rhodes, recalled his pride in restoring the crew's quarters to their original form and the ship's armament to working order.

"He was a good-natured, jolly old fellow and we had lots of fun together," said Mr. Wieczorek, who lives in Baltimore Highlands. "He worked very hard trying to get the rust out of those old guns. He'd paint lockers. He did whatever needed to be done."

Mr. Rhodes was a longtime member of the board of Project Liberty Ship, resigning this year because of failing health.

"Jack contributed so much and wherever it was needed. In addition to erecting the guns on the ship, he also did maintenance on them," said Hercules P. "Herk" Esibill of Parkville, Project Liberty Ship's secretary.

"The Navy was always in his blood, and he was so proud of his work on the ship," said Jane K. Rhodes, a daughter-in-law who lives in Millers in Carroll County.

Mr. Rhodes enjoyed ballroom dancing and was a member of the Carroll County Cloggers, a dancing club.

He was an avid reader, often finishing four or five books a week, with a particular interest in World War II and mysteries.

In 1944, Mr. Rhodes married Helen Lamm, who died this year.

Services will be held at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at J.J. Hartenstein Mortuary in New Freedom, Pa. He is to be buried at sea.

Mr. Rhodes is survived by two sons, Daniel R. Rhodes of Millers and Andrew G. Rhodes of Felton, Pa.; a sister, Nancy Stultz of Fieldale, Va.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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