The John W. Brown is operated and manned by a dedicated all-volunteer crew. On the day I walked through for this report, the guide was Baltimore native John Confair Sr., age 84. An 18-year Armed Guard volunteer on the Brown , he’s full of firsthand information about the conflict that he personally experienced.
Confair joined the Navy on 8 August 1943 and went through boot camp at Sampson Naval Base, New York. He was then shipped to gunnery school at Little Creek, Virginia, where new service members “learned about all the guns that were to be on the ships,” he said. They also attended night-vision school and learned plane recognition. Shipping out from New York on the tanker SS Daylight , “We made two round-trips to Scotland from Staten Island with no shore leave.”
Confair returned to New York’s Armed Guard Center on 6 April 1944 and was again shipped out on 25 April, on the Liberty ship SS James C. Cameron . He sailed on three more ships before being discharged on 30 January 1945. “I was very lucky,” said Confair, “I never had to fire a gun at the enemy.”
This Armed Guardsman particularly enjoys showing off the afterdeck house that he helped to restore. This was where Guardsmen were quartered. Originally the Armed Guard was organized during World War I, to protect Allied and American ships. On board a ship, an Armed Guard command consisted of an officer in charge of a crew of gunners, radiomen, and signalmen. A total of 384 ships had Armed Guard personnel during World War I. The service was deactivated following that war.
It came to life again early in the American involvement in World War II. By the time the United States officially entered the war, 17 U.S. merchant ships had been sunk. More than 80,000 Armed Guard gunners, signalmen, and radiomen served on Liberty ships, tankers, and other ships that carried cargo, fuel, and ammunition to the war fronts. Of the 6,236 ships served by the Armed Guard, more than 700 were sunk, including 200 Liberty ships. More were damaged by enemy action. The Armed Guard was discontinued after the war—but, as another chapter of the U.S. Navy fades into history, people such as Confair keep it alive.
John W. Brown
Pier One, Clinton Street
Open Wednesday and Saturday, 0800 to 1400
Donation requested; free parking
Photo ID to board this operational ship