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Volunteers help keep history alive

Liberty Ship sets sail this May to celebrate all who served

Created date

April 23rd, 2014
Reenactors aboard the S.S. John W. Brown prepare to shoot back at the World War II era planes.
Reenactors aboard the S.S. John W. Brown prepare t

If it’s true that actions speak louder than words, then Joann Malpass and the dozens of other volunteers who make up Project Liberty Ship speak volumes when it comes to honoring America’s veterans and the rich history they helped protect.

Project Liberty Ship is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve the S.S. John W. Brown, America’s oldest surviving World War II Liberty ship and the hundreds of unique museum articles and displays on board. Staffed by volunteers who come from everywhere from Maine to Florida, the ship relies on people like Jo Ann to keep the ship afloat.  

“I help with fundraising and advertising, work in the ship’s store, plan parties and events, and anything else I can help with,” says Joann, who began volunteering in 1994 after her late husband Barry, a merchant marine and Liberty ship volunteer, persuaded her to get involved.

Labor of love

Over the last 20 years, volunteers have logged more than 1,715,000 work hours on the ship.

“We are there every Wednesday and Saturday,” says Joann. “We have people from all backgrounds who enjoy volunteering on the ship—retirees, students from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program, alumni from when the Brown was a floating high school in New York harbor, and graduates from maritime colleges who are sailing in the field today.”

Designed as cheap and quickly built cargo steamers, the Liberty ships formed the backbone of a massive sealift of troops, arms, material, and ordnance to every theater of war. Two-thirds of all the cargo that left the United States during the war was shipped in Liberty ships. Of the 2,710 Liberty ships built, only two are still sailing today.

“They carried troops, supplies, ammunition, food, tanks, jeeps, railroad cars, even horses and donkeys to England, Europe, and Russia,” says Joann. “They also played a big part in the European Recovery Program and helped turn the lights on again all over the world after the war.”    

Living history


“I help get the word out and make more people aware of the historic gem that we have right here in the Baltimore Harbor,” says Sally. “The John W. Brown is a floating museum. There is so much to see and experience on board. You’ll learn how a whole generation pulled together to save their families, friends, beliefs, country, and way of life. It’s important to teach our children what happened then so that it doesn’t happen again.” 

Honoring our vets 

This month, the John W. Brown will embark on a special Living History Cruise titled “A Celebration of All Who Served.” All World War II and Korean War veterans are invited to enjoy a complimentary cruise, and all other veterans will receive a special discounted ticket price. 

“It’s a great time!” says Joann. “We sail to the Bay Bridge and back. And while on board, passengers can enjoy a continental breakfast, buffet lunch, Big Band music of the 1940s, impersonators like Abbott and Costello, historical re-enactors, a memorial service, and a flyover of World War II planes.” 

Guests can also tour the museum spaces, crew quarters, bridge, flying bridge, chart room, radio room, mess rooms, troop berthing areas, and the stern gun deck.

Originally built in Baltimore, the John W. Brown came back to the harbor of her birth in 1988 after being docked in New York Harbor as a maritime high school. After three years of renovations, the Brown set sail again in 1991. This May’s veteran’s appreciation cruise will be the ship’s 97th cruise.

“I enjoy working on the ship, talking to passengers, and working with the volunteers,” says Joann. “It’s something I have a passion for. Once you get down there and start working on the boat, it doesn’t take long before you’re hooked.” 

For more information on how you can be a passenger on board the S.S. John W. Brown for the May 24 veterans appreciation cruise, call 410-558-0164. Online ticketing for all cruises is available at 


What’s in a name?

In 1941, during the launch of the SS Patrick Henry, one of the first Liberty ships ever built, President Roosevelt delivered a speech quoting Patrick Henry’s famous phrase: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Roosevelt stated that the ships would bring liberty to Europe, and from then on, they were known as Liberty ships.