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The Role of the Liberty Ship in WWII

By Murray K. Lee | SDCHM Curator of Chinese American History

In 1942 at the beginning of WW-II, German U-Boats were operating off the U.S. Atlantic Coast and many merchant ships were torpedoed and sunk.  Winston Churchill told President Roosevelt that they were relying on the U.S. to supply them with food and arms to fight Nazi Germany. The Liberty ships were the “truck horses” of the war supply with 75% of the vessels. Kaiser shipyards on the West Coast built Liberty ships in world record time. In 1942 the S.S. Robert E. Peary was built in 7 days, 14 hours, and 23 minutes. In 1946, I  sailed on one of these Liberty ships, the Thomas Sumter as an Able Seaman  We were to go from Baltimore, MD to Cienfuegos, Cuba to pick up a load of raw sugar to deliver to France and Belgium. Loading the sugar was done the old fashioned way, by manual labor.  The laborers carried these huge burlap bags of sugar on their backs and placed them one at a time down in the hold.  This was a slow and tedious p…

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