Thanksgiving on the SS JOHN W BROWN

Our blog this week is a bit like stepping back in time.  We'll be going to Thanksgiving Day 25 November 1943.

There was a man named Paul Baran who was a member of the US Navy Armed Guard (they were the ones who manned the guns to protect the ship). Paul was aboard on the SS JOHN W. BROWN’s third voyage and we have lots of information about this because Paul kept a journal of each day he was  aboard.  The info we have is in the form of letters to his girlfriend.  The ship departed the Chesapeake Bay on 15 Sep 1943 for Oran, North Africa. She carried Sherman tanks, Locomotive, Purple Hearts medals, clothing, and hazardous materials.  The voyage took almost 19 days.   


From Paul Baran’s journal:

Oran NAfrica              day 65                                              Nov 24, 1943

Hello!!! Darling!!!

Well today is my liberty day so I guess I go up to the Red Cross to see a couple of movies.  I hope you don’t mind, it’s the only enjoyment there is over here.  I don’t know what I’d do with myself if they didn’t have the Red Cross.  This will be short for I’m going ashore soon.  I hope I meet someone I know today.  I hear that some of my friends are over here now. Well tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  They brought some turkeys board today, so I guess will have a good meal for a change. Well honey! I guess I better sign off.  I wrote you another Vmail today.  I hope you get them all soon.  So long Darling & God Bless you  & have a wonderful time on Thanksgiving for both of us. Love xxx


Oran, Africa               day 66                                              Nov. 25, 1943
                                                                                       Thanksgiving Day

Hello !!! Honey!!!

          Well I sure did meet someone I know of all persons, Stinky Margie’s boyfriend. We had a nice long talk & departed. Well today is a day to be thankful & believe me honey! I’m plenty thankful. One reason is to still be alive & fighting for what I believe is right & to come home to my love one Josephine.  Oh! Yes! I went up to the Fleet Post Office while I was ashore yesterday & sent you a cablegram & one to Mom Baran.  I hope you get them soon. I saw two good movies yesterday.  “Zigfield Follies” & “This is The Army”  two good pictures. Well I wrote you another letter today. Be pulling out of here soon almost all loaded up with the French mechanized unit. So long now, God Bless you.  Love & Kisses, Paul xxx



Paul did not write about the Thanksgiving Day dinner, but we know that most Thanksgivings the crew had a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

This is a sample menu from a Liberty Ship during the war:

Tomato Soup
Roast Turkey with Oyster stuffing
Mashed potatoes
Giblet gravy
Creamed corn
Fruit & assorted nuts
Pumpkin pie

 The SS JOHN W BROWN spent five Thanksgivings away from home during the war.  Holidays are a time for people to gather with family and friends, but for merchant marines and other enlisted men, they had to work through holidays and spend extended periods of time away from their loved ones.  As we gather tomorrow with friends and family, let us be thankful for those past and present who keep us safe.  Happy Thanksgiving from the crew and members of Project Liberty Ship and the SS JOHN W BROWN!

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.



Who was John W. Brown?

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to think that the JOHN W. BROWN is named after the abolitionist John Brown who led a raid on an armory in Harper's Ferry.  This is completely incorrect. 

First you need to understand how Liberty Ships were named as they were being cranked out quickly in the early 1940's in large numbers. The earliest ones were easily named after famous Americans (particularly those who had signed the Declaration of Independence), but it moved onto other noteworthy and famous Americans.  17 Liberty ships were named after important African Americans in History, like Booker T. Washington, and the only African American female named Liberty ship the SS Harriet Tubman.  There were over 2000 Liberty ships built in just a few short years, so coming up with names became more difficult. Groups that could raise more than $2 million in war bonds could propose names.  Other times, names were notable union leaders because it became an incentive to those working in the shipyards.  All liberty ships were named after deceased people, but there is one exception.  According to Wikipedia, 'The only living namesake was Francis J. O'Gara, the purser of the SS Jean Nicolet, who was thought to have been killed in a submarine attack, but, in fact, survived the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.'

John W. (William) Brown was born in 1870 in Canada and at some point moved to Maine with his family.  If you're ever in Bath, Maine, you can't help notice Bath Iron Works (BIW), a full service shipyard specializing in the design, building and support of ships built for the U.S. Navy, including the recent USS ZUMWALT.  Back to John W. Brown....  He started as a joiner at Bath Iron Works and became an american citizen in 1896.  He eventually became involved in the labor movement and would help organize unions and strikes, if needed.  He even wrote a union column called "Workers Should Know" from 1936-1940.  

Brown and his wife Eva owned a house in Woolwich, MaIne, across the river from Bath, and raised 3 daughters there. There is still family around and we are proud to have had his family on board the SS JOHN W. BROWN a couple of times for cruises.

In 1941 Brown was semi retired and was an adviser to Local 4, Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America at Bath Iron Works.  John William Brown died in 1941 at the age of 71.  He accidentally shot himself with his shotgun.  In the book Good Shipmates written by crew member and the last managing editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun, Ernest F. Imhoff, the grandson of John W. Brown spoke about his grandfather.   Earle A. (Skip) Gainsley Jr said in 2002, that the target of the shotgun was to be a whippoorwill that had been keeping the family awake at night.  He told his wife "I'll get that damn thing if it kills me".  

That's this weeks history lesson, folks.  Come back 'round and see what we have going on next week.  HINT, hint, hint... we are leaving for NYC next Wednesday!!!!   Tickets are still available for this once in a lifetime (and trust us, it's been a LOT of effort to make this trip come to fruition) event.  Here is the link for eventbrite to order tickets.  

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.


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