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During World War II eighty-eight of the almost three thousand Liberty ships built in America were launched in Savannah, Georgia. Without Liberty ships, the Battle of the Atlantic might have been lost. Few remember the Liberty ships today; fewer remember the shipyard or that the Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation was the largest industry ever located there. The land on which this shipyard stood is now derelict. Thousands drive by it every day and have no idea of the great contribution to the war effort that was made on that site. This social history tells the story of the men and women who built these merchant ships in Savannah. Most came from rural areas and had never seen a ship, much less built one. Many were taken out of high school; others were in their seventies or eighties. The demand for labor found women being recruited for construction jobs in a man’s world and performing as well as their fellow male workers. The war also brought African Americans into the shipbuilding industry, but in the segregated South they were not allowed to rise above the roles of custodians and “helpers.” For most of these workers it was not “bow” and “stern” or “port” and “starboard”; it was “pointy end” and “left and right.” They lived in city housing projects and carpooled from throughout South Georgia. They worked in the heat and mosquitoes and in the bitter cold. Their work was dangerous and boring, but many worked double shifts, nights, and seven days a week. There were 45,000 of them during the four years of the shipyard’s existence, and in spite of all of the problems faced, they built ships and built them well. Cope makes use of more than 120 taped interviews with shipyard workers, merchant seamen, dock workers, and Navy and Coast Guard personnel, as well as letters and official documents, to present an authentic and moving record of the working conditions and lives of those
Author Tony Cope has written a comprehensible and readable history of the Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation's Liberty Ships program during WWII.
Probably not enough history has been written about the Liberty's and their crews whose losses during the war years may have exceeded our comprehension.
As a former crew member of an AGS (Former AKA36), I have a special affection for auxiliary type ships and their histories. Cope's book has satiated of my appetite for the history of the Liberty ship and some of the people who built them.
The obvious craftsmanship and detail stands out in this book. I am particularly appreciative of the organization and the weaving of the material into humanistic experience. Judged by today's reading habits, the book wouldn't be considered a "page turner," but I couldn't put it down until I finished it.