Aboard Liberty ship, veterans sail back in time

Early Veterans Day commemoration held on SS John W. Brown

November 06, 2005|By STEPHANIE DESMON | STEPHANIE DESMON,SUN REPORTER

Laury Arturo "Pete" Carter has known this ship most of his adult life. He was one of the hands who built it in a staggering 41 days in 1942. The next year, he was drafted right out of the shipyard and served across Europe and North Africa as World War II continued to rage overseas.

Yesterday, he was brought to tears - though apologetic that they come so easily these days - by the sight of the SS John W. Brown, nearly a senior citizen itself, still hearty enough to set out across Baltimore's Inner Harbor on a glorious morning. He was brought back to his time in the Army all those years ago. He enjoyed swapping stories of the long past with men of this greatest generation. He longed for those days a bit as he saw some younger folks chewing gum with hands in their pockets as the national anthem was played by a brass band.

"It sparks a flame of memory and appreciation," said the 85-year-old Carter, who lived at the Armed Services Retirement Home in Gulfport, Miss., until Hurricane Katrina. "I appreciate the fact that so many people still remember what we did. A lot of friends, relatives and other Americans gave their lives to protect us." For now, Carter lives in a military retirement home in Washington.

Veterans Day came early for more than 450 veterans and their guests yesterday as the decks of the John W. Brown were primed for a celebration of those who have survived and a memorial for those whose lives were lost in war - and the many thousands who returned home from World War II but who die each year as time marches on.

It was also a day to honor the ship. More than 2,700 of these cargo ships and troop transporters were built by the U.S. government in the early years of the war - a huge undertaking. The John W. Brown is the oldest remaining Liberty ship and one of only two still in use. The 441-foot-long freighter, built at the Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore, was big enough to carry the equivalent of 300 railroad cars full of supplies across the ocean.

"Thousands crossed the Atlantic on this ship and others like her, and many never made it home," said retired Brig. Gen. James A. Adkins, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs. "All gave some and some gave all ...

"We have never forgotten them."

For some, yesterday's 10th annual voyage brought back a flood of memories. Some had served on ships like this one - or even the John W. Brown itself. Others recalled waiting for their husbands on shore, waiting for the ship to bring them home from a tour of duty that seemed to last forever.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made a quick visit to greet the veterans and to promise a renewed push for tax credits for military retirees, a proposal which died in the 2005 legislative session. "It is my great honor to be here," he said. "Please know that your service is acknowledged and appreciated."

A wreath-laying ceremony was held as the ship later cruised the harbor. Taps was played. Rifles were shot into the air as a salute by soldiers wearing World War II uniforms.

Joe Jachimski Sr. was among those who tossed flowers from the ship's deck to the water below. The Dundalk man was in the Army, landing in Italy in 1944. Before that, though, he was assigned by the Secret Service to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Ga., from 1942 until he got his orders to go overseas.

"He said, `Joe, you've watched over me. I'm going to watch over you,'" recalled the 87-year-old Jachimski yesterday. "I think he did, because I'm here today."

But he has a hard time reading the news these days, calling the war in Iraq "a terrible thing" and one quite unlike the war he and his buddies fought in.

"We went over there for a purpose" during World War II, he said. "We had to defeat them."

Carter, though, sees similarities between the war today and the one he fought in those many decades ago.

"It's for a cause. I would rather have it over there than over here and if it wasn't there, it would be here," he said. "Those who are killed over there are just as dead as in any war and for the same purpose ... to protect our privilege to salute the flag."

stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com

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