It's the time of year when our thoughts in the Tidewater turn to the heat. That sultry haze that settles over Hampton Roads that one can see while stranded on either side of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, or the shimmering mirages over the roads of Norfolk or Newport News. But if nothing else, history gives us a sense of how fortunate we are today with our air conditioning and moisture-wicking fabrics. Imagine standing watch, scanning the horizon endlessly from the gun tub of a Liberty ship under the blazing sun off the coast of North Africa or transiting the South Pacific below decks amid the soot, clatter and drone in an engineering space so hot that a few minutes of it could bring on heat exhaustion.
During the Second World War, on multiple voyages that frequently took her to and from Hampton Roads, SS John W. Brown delivered tanks and ammunition to Russia and American Soldiers sojourned aboard her on their way to the invasions of North Africa, Southern France and Italy. Some of the axis prisoners they took returned on the ship to the United States for internment. All the while, members of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard, many of whom underwent training at the Armed Guard School at Little Creek, Virginia, stood continual watches in the gun tubs distributed about her upper decks. During the landings in Southern France, they could claim the downing of an attacking German aircraft. The end of the war did not end her wartime mission as the Brown continued transporting much needed coal and grain to Europe, and bringing back hundreds of Americans on her return journeys.