"THE GREATEST RESCUE OPERATION BY A SINGLE SHIP

IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND"

 S.S. MEREDITH VICTORY

 

Meredith Victory being launched

Launched. (courtesy of R. J. McHatton)

Photos of the S.S. Meredith Victory in Pusan, Korea, October 1950 (courtesy of J. Robert Lunney)

Meredith victory in Dry Dock

 

S.S. Meredith Victory in dry dock (courtesy of J. Robert Lunney and Philip LaRue's [nephew of Brother Marinus] wife, Barbara LaRue)

Meredith Victory in Dry Dock

 

 

In late 1950, during the Korean War, thousands of frightened North Korean civilians were running from Chinese troops which had poured in to aid Communist North Korea. The civilians knew if they were caught, they were certain to be tortured and killed.  Having heard the Americans were willing to evacuate them, they were fleeing toward Hungnam, Korea, from miles away, clogging the roads and complicating military withdrawal.

This is how a remarkable story began in saving nearly 100,000 human lives from the shores of Hungnam.  Among the many ships involved in saving the lives of the refugees were the Mormacmoon, Hunter Victory, and Meredith Victory, which were operated by Moore-McCormack Lines under charter to the Military Sea Transportation Service.  Their lives were saved while the Communists were closing in around them.

The story of the 455-foot, 10,658 ton, S.S. Meredith Victory is one that "tops everything else in sheer drama."  It is the story of how Captain Leonard P. LaRue, his officers, and crew rescued 14,000+ refugees. Captain LaRue, without hesitating in his decision and without his officers questioning his decision, loaded the refugees onto the Meredith Victory by using booms and makeshift elevators.  The ship was equipped to handle 35 crew members, 12 officers, and had room for 12 more passengers.  Once aboard, the refugees filled five cargo holds and covered the entire main deck.  The passengers on the main deck had to stand shoulder to shoulder in freezing weather with no food, no water, no doctor, no interpreters, no protection against the enemy, and the only place to go to the bathroom was right where they stood.  As if this wasn't enough, the ship was carrying 300 tons of jet fuel in 52-gallon drums. 

While dodging mines, the ship sailed towards Pusan arriving on December 24.  Thousands of refugees had already arrived in Pusan so the Captain was told they had to head 50 miles southwest to Koje-Do, an island in the Sea of Japan.   Once arriving in Koje-Do, the refugees were gradually loaded onto LSTs.

The arrival of the S.S. Meredith Victory in Koje-Do on Christmas Day marked the end of this miraculous voyage where not a single life was lost and five babies were born. 

"There's no explanation for why the Korean people, as stoic as they are, were able to stand virtually motionless and in silence."  J. Robert Lunney, Staff Officer on the ship and a Navy Veteran of WWII, stated "We were impressed by the conduct of the refugees, despite their desperate plight. We were touched by it." 

In later years, Captain Leonard P. LaRue stated "I think often of that voyage, I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul.  And, as I think, the clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God's own hand was at the helm of my ship."

Captain Leonard P. LaRue remained in command of the Meredith Victory until she was decommissioned in 1952.  In 1954, always being a religious man, Captain LaRue entered a Benedictine Monastery, St. Paul's Abby in Newton, New Jersey.  After 22 years at sea he took the name of "Brother Marinus." 

Aside from doctors' visits, Brother Marinus left St. Paul's Abbey only once since he arrived in 1954.  That one trip was to attend special award ceremonies in Washington in 1960 where he was recognized for his bravery and leadership.  It was there he received the Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal. 

In 2000, St. Paul's Abbey was teetering on extinction until Archabbot Jeremias Schroeder from Germany asked Father Kim, the administrator of Waegwan Abbey in South Korea, if he would be willing to help save St. Paul's.  On October 12, 2001, two days after Father Kim accepted the mission, Brother Marinus Leonard P. LaRue died at St. Paul's, at the age of 87.

After the Korean War, the Meredith Victory was retired to the Navy's "mothball fleet" in the Maritime Administration's National Defense Reserve Fleet in Olympia, Washington.  In 1960, the Meredith Victory was designated as a "Gallant Ship" which was authorized by a special act of Congress and signed by President Eisenhower.  The plaque was not presented to the new master and crew of the ship until she was pressed into service again in 1966 after the tense situation in Vietnam exploded into a full-scale war. 

On October 1, 1993, her life came to an "inglorious" end.  The S.S. Meredith Victory was sold for scrap to Nishant Import/Export Co., London.  "In a touch of irony, the scrapping reportedly took place in China, with the Chinese finally able to destroy the ship that boldly defied their efforts forty-three years before, with no protection and without firing a shot of her own."

(Triumph Books, publisher of "Ship of Miracles," has courteously granted us permission to reprint the two photos immediately above.)

 

We recommend to everyone who is interested in this miraculous human story to read a book which was printed in 2000.  There is no way we could do this story justice by just being able to put a few words on this site.  The book is easy to read and is available through Amazon.com it was published by Triumph Books, written by Bill Gilbert and the title of his book is "Ship of Miracles:  14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage."  

General Alexander W. Haig (who had traveled on the S.S. Uruguay in 1944) included the following in the foreword he wrote for "Ship of Miracles":  "The story of Hungnam and the Meredith Victory is a brilliant yet relatively unknown chapter in American history that can now take its place, during this fiftieth anniversary of the Korean War, among such legendary names as Bunker Hill, Midway, the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.  This book did not just deserve to be written—it needed to be written."

Another great source worth looking into is a web site which we believe is handled by a Saint Paul's Abbey volunteer, Benedict Ahn, whose father was a colonel in the Korean Army.  Mr. Ahn dedicated the last two years to this voyage and he translated the book "Ship of Miracles" into Korean which was published in July 2003.  The site also tells the story of how, in December 2001, Korean Benedictine Monks came over as missionaries from Waegwan Abbey in South Korea to save St. Paul's Abbey from extinction.  

A documentary has been made entitled, "Ship of Miracles."  Right now (July 2006) it is in a dry-run. 

To learn more about this documentary, please drop in on R. J. McHatton's web site, www.shipofmiracles.com.

  (Photo of R. J. McHatton is courtesy of his web site on the documentary film, "Ship of Miracles.") 

 

 

 

 

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