Vintage WW II troopship finds home in Baltimore

Monday, November 26, 2001

BALTIMORE -- On the S.S. John W. Brown, there are no beach chairs or swimming pools on deck, no Broadway shows below, no white-uniformed crew members to wait on passengers.

But when the ship leaves its Baltimore berth for all-day cruises down the Chesapeake Bay four times a year, hundreds of $125 tickets sell out three months in advance.

It's history, not luxury, that draws passengers from all over the world to the Brown, the first World War II Liberty Ship built that carried troops.

Earlier this month on Veterans Day, about 400 military and merchant marine veterans, with another 100 friends and family, boarded the gunmetal gray ship for a short cruise from the Dundalk Marine Terminal to Baltimore's Inner Harbor and back.

"You can see the turnout," said Tom Cooper, 82, a Navy veteran from McClean, Va.

During World War II, more than 2,700 Liberty Ships were quickly built to carry cargo across the ocean in support of the Allied war effort. The 441-foot, steam engine-powered Brown was constructed during the summer of 1942 in Baltimore's Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard.

In May 1943, the Brown became the first of 220 Liberty Ships to be converted for carrying troops. Over the course of the conflict, the Brown and her crew of merchant marine seamen and U.S. Navy Armed Guards would transport 10,000 troops, including a shipload that participated in the 1944 invasion of Normandy.

After the war, the ship was lent to New York City for use as a nautical high school.

In 1978, Project Liberty Ship, an organization to preserve the Brown was started.

The ship's stint as a floating high school ended, and she was towed in 1983 to the James River Fleet in Virginia.

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