An important element of the history of the U.S. Merchant Marine's indispensable role in the Allied victory in World War II has been sustained, due in large part to the tireless efforts of American Maritime Officers member Captain Alaina Basciano.
The S/S John W. Brown, the 77-year-old Liberty Ship that served in the U.S. sealift for Allied Forces during World War II, had lost her home dock in Baltimore and faced the possibility of being sent to the scrapyard until Basciano started a public campaign to raise awareness of the historical importance of the vessel.
Those efforts resulted in the 440-foot gray hull finding a familiar new home - in Baltimore at the shipyard in which the ship was originally built.
"She's my baby. I'm very excited that things worked out and I think she can still be really useful for mariners today," said Basciano, who began volunteering on the S/S Brown when she was 10 years old and recently embarked on her first trip as master on the USNS Pathfinder.
The S/S Brown is one of four Liberty Ships still in existence, and one of only two that is still operational. While the Brown does get underway three or four times a year for themed cruises, it is primarily a floating museum and had been given port space for virtually no charge. But with space limited in the port of Baltimore, the ship was required to move by the end of 2019.
The Brown's new home, the former Bethlehem Steel Fairfield Shipyard, is actually the ship's original home. Hundreds of Liberty Ships were built at the shipyard for the World War II sealift. The Brown was built in 1942.
Basciano said, along with historical cruises, the S/S Brown could also serve as a means for merchant mariners to earn time on a steam plant, as well as other needed experience for sealift activations.
The Brown recently helped serve in a refresher course for U.S. Maritime Administrator Rear Adm. Mark Buzby (U.S. Navy retired), who piloted the vessel from Baltimore to drydock in Norfolk, Va. in January before the vessel was moved to the shipyard berth.
"She's a living, breathing and a very important part of our history," Buzby said. "The S/S Brown reminds us of a time when we had to band together to essentially save the world and it really shows the importance of the merchant mariner in history."
Basciano's work to keep the vessel viable for years to come is not done. The S/S Brown is manned on a voluntary basis and more volunteers - particularly experienced engineers - are needed to maintain the aging vessel. Deck officers are also needed and the Brown also has a radio room in need of volunteer officers.
If mariners on vacation could spare even a few days, it would be a valuable contribution toward preserving one of the last tangible pieces of merchant mariner history, Basciano believes.
"It's an important link to our past that deserves our attention," she said. "She's more than a museum."