Time to say farewell to the Liberty Ships. A list of their names has been a fun little sea voyage into odd corners of history. In fact I had a hard time leaving some out. Here are a few "odds" and ends.
Why, we have the S.S. Katherine Bates name in honor of the woman who wrote "America the Beautiful". Also the S.S. Sarah Joseph Hale remembering the woman who penned "Mary had a Little Lamb". Ms. Bates btw has become after the fact a figure revered by modern Gay activists. Although from this long remove it is hard to tell just how much of her flowery 19th century professions of love for another woman were just overdone prose. Whalebone corsets and Gay Pride....seems like two different planets.
Lets also remember the S.S. Thomas Bulfinch, a 19th century editor of folklore and mythology. Somehow he managed to distill out all the Grimm and naughty parts and make it respectable reading.
The Old West was commemorated in the S.S. Annie Oakley and the S.S. James B. Hickock. A ship's insignia for the latter could possibly include the notorious "Dead Man's Hand" that Wild Bill was holding when he was shot, but that might be a bit much for suspicious mariners.
|Aces over Eights. The remaining card is a source of dispute.|
Another entire series were specially built for hauling coal. They got inspiring names from, of all things, coal deposits. Imagine a graybeard telling the younger generation about his time on the gallant S.S. Freeport Seam.
The names of the Liberty Ships are delightfully quirky, but were supposed to follow one firm rule: They were not to be named for a living person. And even that rule was broken exactly once.
Francis J. O'Gara was a sports writer for the Philadelphia Enquirer before joining the Merchant Marine. He was aboard the ill fated Liberty Ship S.S. Jean Nicolet when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in July of 1944. The horrific tale of how the survivors were treated is recounted here.
The handful of sailors rescued by Allied ships made it quite clear that the Japanese were slaughtering all survivors. And besides, the sub had made a crash dive to evade an approaching search plane. It seemed entirely appropriate to name a new Liberty Ship for men who died on the Nicolet, although why her Captain was not so honored is not clear to me.
The keel of the Francis J. O'Gara was laid down in April of 1945, with completion in June. So she was a rather new ship when her namesake was shipped home from a POW camp in Yokohama at the end of the war. The vessel returning him to the States was berthed right next to.....the ship posthumously named for him!
The extended story of Francis O'Gara can be found here. I am borrowing from that site a marvelous photo, here is the only namesake of a Liberty Ship who could pose for a photo with her!