Sea Mail

Article excerpt


I haven't been writing for Sea Classics lately because of what I'm about to tell you. I've written a book about our Liberty ship in Baltimore.

I retired in 1999, after 36 years as reporter and editor at The Baltimore Sunpaper. I joined the all-volunteer WWII Liberty ship SS John W. Brown, became an ordinary seaman and took up cleaning toilets, chipping rust with a needle gun and learning some seamanship on a 441-ft vessel.

I went to sea (sort of) because the memory of four youthful transatlantic trips on steamers survived a half century of the more serious business of family and career in intervening years. I now had the time.

Aboard the ship in East Baltimore, I also began to take oral histories of the remarkable WWII crewmen and others who saved this ship and to learn the events by which they made her sail again.

The result is my new book, Good Shipmates: The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown. It is being issued in two volumes, the first in December 2005 (covering the years through 1994) and the second a year later (to the present). The publisher is Glencannon Press, of Palo Alto, California.

The book IS NOT about me but about my shipmates. I hope you think it deserves your consideration and either a book review or a feature story. The lives of my shipmates - men and women - form a mosaic of interesting adventures and some life lessons:

* The hard work veterans and others can do in retirement in their 60s, 70s and 80s besides playing golf, going to reunions and getting old without new goals and accomplishments.

* How an aging, gray, ex-cargo/troop ship that these workers never knew at sea in the most exciting days of their lives can focus the energies of one-time seamen half a century later; they forego broken and diseased backs, knees, hips, eyes, insides and spirits to help save a piece of American history and also themselves.

* The need to preserve the facts and the memories from a war that is remote from today's young consciousness; one teacher coming aboard with students asked, "Now when was World War Two?" (Four museums aboard help answer that and other questions.)

* The values of an older generation inspiring younger people to come aboard, work alongside and even to enter the Merchant Marine as a career. (More young volunteers are always needed).

* What seniors can physically and mentally do as volunteers in more than one-million hours of labor for which no one aboard the nonprofit venture - even the captain - has ever been paid.

* How strangers can meet in late middle age and senior years in an unlikely floating clubhouse and become a second family that cares for each other when sick, dying and grieving.

Their personal stories are not presented in the get-thin, get-rich, get-wise small manual tradition. It is a series of human yarns flowing chronologically over the keel of preserving a ship from the end of WWII to the present. Only one other Liberty, of 2710 launched, still steams (the SS Jeremiah O'Brien of San Francisco).

The Brown is still sailing today from Baltimore at the age of 63. This is a notable fact since most of the world's large ships, famous or not, military or civilian, rarely sail past 20- or 30-years before they are done. The famous SS United States, rotting in Philadelphia, sailed only 17-years before the jet age roughly shoved it into one forlorn pier after another (the Brown has her orange life jackets).

In 2000, the SS John W. Brown sailed for three-and-a-half months to the Great Lakes to get 13,800 new rivets - extending her life for years. The Brown still sails and has a sailing schedule of five voyages in 2006 in the Chesapeake Bay.

The publisher is offering the first volume at $24.95 plus $4 mailing. The toll-free number is 800-7118985. The soft-cover book is 408 pages with 103 photographs and illustrations).

Ernest F. Imhoff

Baltimore, MD


I have neither corrections nor complaints; just want to thank you for putting out a great magazine. …