Monday, March 10, 2014

Naming the Liberty Ships - Part Four

Note: This is part of a series of posts on odd bits of history as memorialized in the names of World War II Liberty Ships.  I am organizing them, after a fashion, around proposed artwork for imaginary "ships' insignia"  For a more complete explanation and background:  Part One


Today's first ship is a 1943 example, the S.S. George Gipp.  You may think it a bit unfair to propose the above image as a starting point for a ship's emblem.  After all, it is just some actor portraying Gipp. But to be fair, the movie Knute Rockne, All American came out in 1940, so this is exactly how most people would picture Gipp.  It is funny how a B movie can catch on sometimes.  Perhaps the phrase "Win just one for the Gipper" resonated with the national war effort.  Perhaps the B movie actor involved had some hard to explain charismatic qualities.

Oh, of course there was also a Liberty ship called the S.S. Knute Rockne.  Befitting his lead billing, the Rockne was laid down 12 days earlier, even though most folks not within sight of the upraised arms of "Touchdown Jesus" at Notre Dame would consider Gipp the more memorable figure.

Both men had dramatic deaths.  Rockne followed after a couple of our previous subjects, dying in an airplane crash in 1931. George Gipp of course died of pneumonia in 1920.  This was hardly unusual, it was the pre-antibiotic era and not long after the great influenza pandemic of 1919.  He is said to have encouraged Rockne to use his deathbed words to cheer on the team some day when all the breaks were going against them.  Evidently that did not happen very often to Notre Dame, as it was not until 1928 that Coach Rockne made his famous halftime speech that spurred the Fighting Irish on to victory over Army.

A couple of after notes.

Long, long after George Gipp had died there was a story that he had fathered a child shortly before his demise.  In 2007 Gipp's remains were exhumed and DNA testing was done.  Since at this late date the only thing really on the line was reputation I think we can regard the negative test results as a second posthumous "Win" for the Gipper.

Oh, and the chap who played Gipp in the movies.  Well, he did ok by himself eventually.  He even had a ship named after him.

I have mentioned earlier that rules regarding the naming of American aircraft carriers are a bit screwy. What with the longer survival times post office and the relative dearth of heroic Presidents the requirement that a man be dead before a ship bears his name has been relaxed.  So the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan was launched in 2001, when "Dutch" was still alive.  The christening was done by a former B movie actress named Nancy.  It was their 49th wedding anniversary.

On another historical side note, the naming of the Reagan caused a minor dust up.  The President at that time, Bill Clinton, was a Democrat.  It being uncommon for a President to name a major ship after a member of the opposite political party a compromise was needed.  So another carrier already under construction was renamed and became the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman!


The Old Man said...

I love the Liberty ship posts. I believe the Wm Mather docked here in Cleveland as a floating museum is a laker converted from a Liberty ship.

Tacitus2 said...

Although a fine ship, the William Mather was built in 1925, long before the Liberty program.

You may be confusing her with the Liberty Ship S.S. Cotton Mather, but she was scrapped in 1960.