Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One of the last Liberty ships...

I recall working on a "predictive model" of archaeology resources on the Passaic River in New Jersey back in the early 1980s. Near the mouth of the river was a large scrap yard. We happened on one gentleman who showed us onto the property with proper ID from the US Army Corps of Engineers. He mentioned that the ship at dockside, was one of the last Liberty ships, over 2000 constructed in World War II, ("The 250,000 parts were pre-fabricated throughout the country in 250-ton sections...")  and it was being scrapped. I consulted Wikipedia and narrowed down the search to these three, the only reported among the last scrapped Liberty ships:
  • SS Henry L. Pittock  24 June 1943 Russia 1943 as Askold, later Dalryba, scrapped 1982
Named for the famous 19th century American newspaper publisher in Portland, Oregon.
  • SS Samlamu 14 June 1944 Sold private 1947, scrapped 1982
"Loan Great Britain" Later traveled in the South Pacific, i.e., New Zealand, etc.  “ex- Samlamu, 1947 purchased from MOWT renamed Kingsbury, 1960 sold to Poland renamed Huta Bedzin.”
  • SS Thomas Nelson 4 April 1942 Kamikazied off Leyte 1944, repaired, converted to diesel 1956, scrapped 1981
Army Transportation Service. Named for the famous American patriot who replaced Thomas Jefferson as Governor of Virginia.

So I think, from the date when I visited the scrap yard in New Jersey and this info, it appears that one of the last Liberty ships scrapped, and in New Jersey, may have been used by the Russians at first in war and then for fishing before scrapped, the SS Henry L. Pittock, as the Russian Dalryba or perhaps was scrapped by Poland as the Huta Bedzin ("Bedzin Ironworks"). Many ships and boats (PT boats JFK served on) were built in New Jersey some reportedly lengthened like the "P2" my grandfather Lawrence G. Urquhart served on, the USS Admiral E. W. Eberle  which was renamed U.S. Army Transport General Simon B. Buckner and then USNS General Simon B. Buckner. One of the few, perhaps, US Navy ships, named after an Army general. My grandfather used to joke they built so many ships, they ran out of admirals and had to start naming them after generals! I’m inclined to think it was the Huta Bedzin as it seems to stir some part of the little grey cells as Hercule Poirot used to say.

Interestingly, the Liberty ship SS George B. Cortelyou, the only ship in US history to ever been named "Cetus" (after the whale constellation, and when renamed) was as, the keel was laid down, named after the native New Yorker, who held three Cabinet posts under Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, VP when President McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet, eight days after an attempt on his life in Buffalo, New York at the Pan-American Exposition, also attended by Mr. Cortelyou. He is sometimes credited as our "first White House Press Secretary" (US National Archives journal article) inviting the press in to inform them about the wounded President McKinley, then expected to recover. He started as a short-hand teacher in NYC and later was Chairman of the Republican Party and after serving as Postmaster General, lived at "Harbor Lights" in Huntington, NY, recently up for sale. The first known New York historically recorded, "Cortelyou" was a Jacques Cortelyou hired by the Dutch to survey Brooklyn, NY and a "downtown" street there bears that surname. So, the only official US ship ever named after “whales” once also had a French-American name.

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