SS Meredith Victory

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Career (United States)
Name: SS Meredith Victory
Builder: CalShip, Los Angeles, California
Laid down: 1 May 1945
Launched: 23 June 1945
Completed: 24 July 1945
Fate: Broken up in China between 1993 and 1994
General characteristics
Tonnage: 10,658[1]
Displacement: 15200 tons (at 28-foot draft)[2]
Length: 455 feet (139 m)[2]
Beam: 62 feet (19 m)[2]
Draft: 28 feet (7.6 m)[2]
Depth of hold: 38 feet (11.5 m)[2]
Speed: 15 to 17 knots (28 to 31 km/h)
Capacity: 59 total (35 crew members, 12 officers, and 12 passengers)[1]

The SS Meredith Victory was a United States Merchant Marine Victory ship, a type of cargo freighter built for World War II. It is best known for evacuating more than 14,000 refugees in a single mission during the Korean War.

Under the stewardship of Captain Leonard LaRue, the SS Meredith Victory performed the largest humanitarian rescue operation by a single ship.[3] The vessel has often been described as the "Ship of Miracles" as it was designed to carry only 12 passengers.

History[edit]

The SS Meredith Victory was named after Meredith College, a small women's college in North Carolina.[4] The ship was built to transport supplies and equipment overseas during World War II. It was then deployed in the Korean War.

In December 1950, United Nations Command troops were retreating from northeast Korea after a massive assault by Chinese and North Korean forces. Over 100,000 UNC soldiers were to evacuate the city of Hungnam on 193 ships. Nearly the same number of civilians had also gathered at the port, hoping to board these vessels heading to safety in the southern port of Pusan. News of the evacuation had spread in the region and many refugees fleeing from the communists had lined up on the shores seeking rescue.

On December 21, Captain Leonard LaRue of the SS Meredith Victory made the decision to unload nearly all weapons and supplies from his ship in order to evacuate as many refugees as possible. Boarding went on from the afternoon of December 22 until the next morning.[5] Using booms and makeshift elevators, the refugees filled the five cargo holds and the entire main deck. Although built to accommodate only 12 passengers, besides the crew and staff, the ship took aboard more than 14,000 Korean civilians fleeing the approaching Communists. The Meredith Victory departed shortly after 11 am on December 23 for Pusan, about 450 sea miles away,[6] as gunfire from UNC ships and explosives destroyed the port in an "enemy-denial-operation" razing. The ship had no escort or means of self-defense.[6]

Years later, LaRue would reflect on that trip:[7]

I think often of that voyage. I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul. And, as I think, the clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God's own hand was at the helm of my ship.

Despite the fact that the refugees were "packed like sardines in a can" and most had to remain standing up, shoulder-to-shoulder, in freezing weather conditions during the entire voyage, there were no injuries or casualties on board. There was very little food or water, and the people were virtually unable to move. J. Robert Lunney, Staff Officer on the ship and a navy veteran of World War II, stated:

There's no explanation for why the Korean people, as stoic as they are, were able to stand virtually motionless and in silence. We were impressed by the conduct of the refugees, despite their desperate plight. We were touched by it.

First mate D.S. Savastio, who only had first aid training, delivered five babies during the three day passage to safety. The ship arrived in Pusan on Christmas Eve, but no one was allowed off except a few wounded and those identified as Communist sympathizers.[6] The Meredith Victory had to travel another 50 miles to Geoje Island before it could debark its passengers on December 26.[6]

Captain LaRue remained in command until the ship was decommissioned in 1952.[5]

After the Korean War, the ship sat in the harbor of Bremerton, Washington as part of the "mothball fleet" until it served in some minor missions during the Vietnam War.

The SS Meredith Victory was later sold to Nishant Import/Export Co. of London to later become scrap metal in China.

Awards and distinctions[edit]

After the war, the South Korean government honored the crew with the Korean Presidential Unit Citation.[6] The United States Merchant Marine also gave the ship's crew the Meritorious Service Medal, its highest honor.[8]

On August 24, 1960, the SS Meredith Victory was conferred the title of "Gallant Ship" by a special act of the U.S. Congress that was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[1]

The Department of Transportation declared it "the greatest rescue in the history of mankind". Guinness World Records has described it as "the largest evacuation from land by a single ship".[9]

Documentary[edit]

The documentary film Ship of Miracles, directed by R. J. McHatton, was made about the remarkable story. The documentary can be viewed for free online at http://www.shipofmiracles.com.

Novel[edit]

The SS Meredith Victory is featured prominently in a 2012 historical novel Hope in Hungnam.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c ""The Greatest Rescue Mission Operation by a Single Ship in the History of Mankind": S.S. Meredith Victory". moore-mccormack.com. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Culver, John A., Capt. USNR, "A time for Victories", United States Naval Institute Proceedings February 1977 pp. 50-56
  3. ^ http://www.usmma.edu/about/news/feature.asp?StoryID=344[dead link]
  4. ^ ""Ship of Miracles" documentary film by RJ McHatton". 
  5. ^ a b Dan Van der Vat (December 19, 2001). "Obituaries: Brother Marinus". The Guardian. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Fohn, Rosanne (November–December 2002). "Voyage of Mercy: Merchant mariners rescue 14,000 Korean refugees facing death". USAA Magazine. 
  7. ^ "A Miracle". koreamonitor.net. 
  8. ^ Jennifer Goldblatt (January 11, 2004). "A Tale of Salvation". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ "Largest evacuation from land by a single ship". Guinness World Records. Retrieved March 12, 2013.