After reading the April issue of Benicia Magazine, I would like to pass along a few thoughts about the fine article on the disappearing Ghost Fleet by Madra Rue. As a retired Naval officer, I have had some ties to a Victory ship and with the Suisun Bay site, as I once provided assistance to the overseer of the Glomar Explorer before she was brought to the reserve fleet anchorage. Early in my career I was the salvage officer and XO on the USS Conserver (ARS-39) and we were tasked with the successful freeing the SS Norwich Victory. This Victory was loaded with 500 lb. bombs and had stranded on Triton Island in transit to DaNang in 1965. I often cruise in our family boat to Montezuma Slough, and my course used to come very close to my first salvage ship, the USS Reclaimer (ARS-42). I recently watched her being towed through the Strait on her way to the Texas ship breakers. I am quite familiar with the author’s descriptions of the different categories of ships berthed at the facility, as I see many of their newer sister ships currently assigned as active prepositioned ships in various oceans of the world.
One of Mr. Rue’s most interesting paragraphs concerned the historical ships SS Jeremiah O’Brien (ssjeremiahobrien.org), and SS Red Oak Victory (ssredoakvictory.com), both of which are now museums. As an avid reader of WWII history, I was familiar with both ships and would like to share more about the Red Oak Victory. To me, who she represents is as significant as being remembered as one of the many ships produced in Richmond. The ship’s namesake was Red Oak, Iowa, a small town that had the highest number of servicemen killed in action per capita than any other town or county in the United States. The Red Oak Museum website links lead to the very well represented US citizens who were part of the mobilization mandatory for producing the tools needed to win the war. The number of ships, produced at a time when all of the Bay Area and nationwide ship production sites, was unbelievable and will never be matched again. The resulting spirit and can-do attitude of the WWII generation, tasked with winning the war through unmitigated civilian mobilization, may be much more difficult to attain today.
The Red Oak website also contains interesting facts and links about the war and the town’s participation. One feature I particularly enjoyed was a living interview section found within the museum link. There are several short videos of Red Oak WWII veterans who served in WWII battles, and even some who were prisoners of war. This is a very nice feature, to hear from aging veterans, all of whom have interesting stories. Although the videos are not the same level of effort as one finds with Ken Burns’ book and video series The War, the Red Oak veterans tell it how they lived it.
The article prompted me to think about some of the WWII, Korean War, and even later veterans who reside in Benicia. Our town has book references, the Benicia Historical Museum covers our military past and celebrates Memorial Day, and we have a connection to past veterans at the Benicia Military Cemetery, but it would be great if our historians would do living interviews with local veterans. Did you know that the President of the Indianapolis Survivors Association lives here? Did you know that the USS Nautilus’s Navigator, who piloted the submarine to the North Pole in 1958, lives here? There are others, and some of their stories and pictures can be found at Computer 1 at 737 First Street. It would be a worthy effort if a personal touch could be added to the city’s website, creating a living history section. Next time you see an older person wearing an Army, Marine or Navy ball cap, ask them if they mind sharing their experiences. I recently met with a WWII B-17/24 pilot who survived 32 bombing missions over Germany—it was a very enjoyable visit.
Benicia Magazine wishes all our veterans a very happy Memorial Day!