- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — With the Battle of the Bulge raging in Western Europe during World War II, workers at a Brunswick shipyard were determined to deliver one more ship by year’s end.

To get the job done, laborers were needed around the clock on Christmas Day. About 1,500 volunteered, and they worked without pay.

Newspapers across the United States carried the story in their afternoon editions Dec. 25, and 60 years later, their hard work and generosity remains a point of pride in the coastal city.

“We were Santa Claus,” recalled Nanelle Surrency Bacon, 81.

The shipyard built freighters to carry troops and supplies to the front lines of World War II.

It made its December quota before the holiday, launching its sixth ship on Dec. 23, 1944. But Mrs. Bacon and her co-workers at the J.A. Jones Construction Co. shipyard were determined to do more.

Mrs. Bacon and John Clyde Smith, who supervised 100 electricians at the shipyard, could not remember whose idea it was to build seven ships in December and donate their Christmas overtime pay to the sailors taking those vessels overseas.

But Mrs. Bacon remembers reporting for a 16-hour workday and seeing a Christmas tree, which her supervisor had cut from the woods, posted by the front gate. During breaks over crackers and colas, she led co-workers in singing carols.

In photographs from that Christmas, a man dressed as Santa Claus kneels on the docks with a blowtorch, flanked by two female welders.

After Christmas, workers received their holiday overtime checks already separated from their normal pay. They signed over those checks to the U.S. Treasury and turned them in to the shipyard’s 13 union leaders.

The J.A. Jones Construction Co. then matched the workers’ gift, donating an additional $16,080.

On Dec. 30, the Brunswick shipyard launched its seventh ship — the William Cox.

“You could feel the enthusiasm of the person over the intercom system,” Mrs. Bacon said. “It made you feel like you had almost given your heart or your life for the country.”

On Jan. 2, 1945, the Brunswick workers received congratulations in a wire telegram from Vice Adm. Emory S. Land, chairman of the U.S. Maritime Commission.

The 3,500-ton freighters, known as Liberty ships, measured 447 feet long and were relatively crude vessels — stemming from the Allies’ need to build ships faster than German U-boats could sink them.

Using prefabricated parts that were welded rather than riveted, average production time was cut from 18 months to one month. The ships cost about $2 million apiece.

The fleet proved vital to the war effort. Author Walter W. Jaffee, who has written four books on the ships, says simply, “We couldn’t have won the war without it.”

The Brunswick shipyard built 99 of the 2,710 Liberty ships launched from 1941 until the war’s end in 1945. It closed soon after the war.

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