John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: June, 2022

Naming the Liberty Ships

June 2022 (Originally published in March 2014.)

During the first two years of World War II, Great Britain lost so many cargo ships that this island nation was forced to recognize a dreadful possibility; it would be starved out of the war unless it quickly acquired replacement ships. New ships had to be constructed rapidly, be simple to operate by the rawest of crews and be easily replaced. Only America had the resources to build them. Franklin Roosevelt adopted his “short of war” policy to d to authorize The Maritime Administration, (Marad) to adopt a modified British design for these new freighters, officially, the EC2-S-C1, but better known as the, “Liberty Ship.”

The first Liberty, Patrick Henry, was laid down on April 30, 1941, launched on September 27th and finished on December 30th.  FDR personally christened this ship one of fourteen launched that day. Patrick Henry took 150 days to fabricate from first steel to launch with a total building time of 244 days. Building time dropped dramatically to an average of 42 days as prefabricating techniques improved and, one ship, Robert E. Peary, went from first steel to launch in 4 days, 15 ½ hours.

In all 2,711 Liberty Ships were built in 18 shipyards. Almost all U.S. Flag Liberties were named after dead Americans. The famous included Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt but also James Buchanan and even Jefferson Davis. John Hancock was among signers of the Declaration of Independence so honored, but so were the less notable; William Hooper, Francis Lewis, Josiah Bartlett and Button Gwinnett.

Other patriots abound; Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Nathan Hale, Betsey Ross, Samuel Adams, Israel Putnam, John Paul Jones, Molly Pitcher, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine and Paul Revere. Names familiar from our Civil War; Julia Ward Howe, Matthew B. Brady, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Fredrick Douglass, Joshua Chamberlain, Barbara Frietchie, George A. Custer, Harriet Tubman, Jubal Early, Stephen A. Douglas, Winfield Scott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Longstreet and Philip H. Sheridan. (Alas, SS John W. Brown didn’t bear the fiery abolitionist’s name; John W. was an early 20th Century labor leader.)

Men and women adventurers and explorers included Davy Crockett, Wyatt Earp, Ponce De Leon, James (Wild Bill) Hickok, Amelia Earhart, Geronimo, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, Amerigo Vespucci, Kit Carson, Pocahontas, William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody and of course, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Famous American wordsmiths included Mary Austin, Charles Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, Anne Hutchinson, Zane Grey, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, Emma Lazarus, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Ring Lardner, Joyce Kilmer, Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Cullen Bryant.

Song, dance, stage and sports; Abner Doubleday, P.T. Barnum, John L. Sullivan, Edwin Booth, Lou Gehrig, John Philip Sousa, Carol Lombard, Will Rogers, John Ringling, George M. Cohan, Christy Matteson, George Gershwin, Knute Rockne and George Gipp.

Inventors, industrialists, household names; Alexander Graham Bell, George Eastman, Samuel Colt, Richard Gatling, James Bowie, Edison, Morse, Robert Fulton, George Pullman, R.J. Reynolds, W. R. Grace, Goodyear, DuPont, John Deere, Glenn Curtiss and Wilbur Wright.

Architects, engineers, doctors, scientists, jurists; Mayo Brothers, George Washington Carver, Sanford White, George Goethals, Johns Hopkins and Booker T. Washington. Publishers, attorneys and politicians: Adolph S. Ochs, Edward Everett, Wendell Wilkie, Horace Greeley, Clarence Darrow, William Gorgas, John Marshall, James G. Blaine and Louis Brandeis.

Names local to New York; Al Smith, Samuel J. Tilden, Franklin K. Lane, C.W. Post, Floyd Bennett, William Floyd, Jacob Riis, and Peter Cooper.

The forgettable and forgotten; Uriah Rose (Arkansas politician founded the Rose Law Firm: see Hillary R. Clinton), Billy Sunday (evangelist), Sun Yat Sen (first president of the Rep. of China), Nachman Syrkin (Zionist), Andreas Honcharenko (no record found except her ship), Virginia Dare (first white person born in America), Albino Perez (Mexican politician, governor of New Mexico, assassinated one month in office), Archibald Mansfield (Reverend Mansfield led Seaman’s Church Institute), Sewell Seam (Appalachian coal mining developer), Hinton Helper (North Carolina, opposed slavery for curious reasons before the war; a white supremacist after the war.)

These and other names of ships can be explained by a fund-raising provision that any group that raised two million dollars in war bonds could nominate a name for a ship.

Far more Liberty Ships survived the war than had been anticipated as the tide for the Battle of the Atlantic turned in favor of the Allies by the later part of 1943. After V.J. Day, almost 1,000 U.S. Flag Liberties, declared surplus, became the backbone of international merchant fleets replacing the ships lost during the war. They remained a mainstay well into the 1960s until the container ship revolution finally sent them to the breakers. They were joined by their U.S. Flag sisters who had spent almost all of the years after the war resting and rusting tied up side-by-side in reserve fleets located in American bays and rivers. Deemed old and obsolete, they too were towed to scrap yards.

But two survived to carry on, the aforementioned, John W. Brown, based in Baltimore (named for the labor leader) and the Jeremiah O’Brien based in San Francisco. The O’Brien carries the name of a native of Maine who commanded the sloop, Unity that captured the HMS Margaretta at the Battle of Machias, ME, the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War. Both Liberties remain operational and make several short voyages in protected bays each season. May they live long and prosper.

The Long Life and Dramatic Death of the An 225 Mriya

Ukrainians proudly considered Mriya to be the queen of the skies. Mriya, meaning dream, and pronounced, Mer-EE-ah, like the heroine in “West Side Story.” Its existence ended suddenly and tragically on February 24, 2022 when Putin, began his war of aggression against Ukraine.

The An-225, a one of a kind, was at rest inside its custom-made hanger at Hostomel Airport outside of Kyiv. The crew had flown the giant home to its operating base on February 2nd, after it finished what turned out to be its last mission flying COVID test kits from China to Africa. On the first day of their invasion, the Russians bombed Hostomel and in the process, destroyed the An-225.

Ironically, the concept behind the design of this airplane was part of the Soviet Union’s (USSR) continual effort to compete with NASA’s space shuttle program. NASA had converted a surplus Boeing 747 to carry our prototype non-space ready shuttle Enterprise for non-powered launches allowing the crew to practice the necessary gliding techniques that the real shuttle pilots would need to make successful landings at the end of their missions.

Once the first shuttle, Columbia, went into space, the same 747 returned those shuttles that landed at Edwards Air Force Base back to the Kennedy launch center. Its final mission was to distribute the remaining shuttles to their retirement homes.   

The An-225 first flew on December 21, 1988. In 1990, it carried the Soviet’s version of their non-space ready shuttle, the Buran, model number, 1.01. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the Buran space shuttle program was cancelled and the AN-225 was relegated to storage where it remained until 1994.

But the An-225 was clearly needed to satisfy the demands for an extreme heavy-lift cargo aircraft. No need to re-invent the wheel: the An-225 had a lifting capacity of 550,000 pounds.

Oleksandr Halunenko was the giant’s first pilot having the honor to be at the controls for its inaugiful first flight in 1988. Now, 76, he lives in retirement in a suburb of Kyiv not far from where the airplane he considers to be his child was destroyed.

Jeffrey Gettleman interviewed Mr. Halunenko for The New York Times, and wrote about his thoughts: “lt takes a lot to impress the Americans, but I’ll never forget the crowds that lined up to see us and no one knew where Kyiv was,” he laughed.

The Antonov Company re-purposed the Mriya for commercial use to fly extreme heavy-lift cargoes world-wide that no other airplane could handle. Powered by six monster jet engines, three under each wing and with a landing gear of 32 wheels, the An-225 was longer and heavier than any other airplane.

There are many videos made of the giant’s take-offs as the An-225 needed every foot of a runway to slowly lift off. Poised at the starting point of a runway, the airplanes wings drooped under the weight of its six engines and all of the fuel stored in those tanks. As the giant rumbled down the runway, the wings begin to rise as the giant gains speed. Still, the experienced crew knew that they must hold their charge bound to the runway for as long as possible while building up sufficient speed to lift the nose allowing the An-225 to leave the ground, overcome gravity’s pull and gently lift into the air, becoming airborne and achieving the miracle of flight.

“In 2001, Mr. Halunenko broke several aviation records, including for the heaviest cargo load ever lifted in the air. The plane also set the world’s record for transporting the longest piece of air cargo – a 138 foot-foot turbine blade – and hosting the highest-altitude art exhibition.”

“By 2004, Mr. Halunenko had retired as its pilot. But Mriya carried on. In the past two years it made hundreds of flights, often stuffed with COVID-19 supplies. For one journey to Poland, 80,000 people live-streamed the landing. Newly painted in yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, Mriya became Ukraine’s ambassador to the world.”

American intelligence warned that the Russians planned to seize Hostomel airport as part of their opening blitzkrieg, but for reasons we may never know, the Mriya’s owners didn’t fly their airplane to a safer location.

“At 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, the day the war started, Russian missiles slammed into a national guard base next to the airport. A few hours later, Russian helicopters blasted the airport with more missiles that hit the hangers where Mriya and other airplanes were stored.”

Like other giants of the sky from previous eras like the Hindenburg and the Pan American flying boats, this unique airplane is lost to history.

Still, Mr. Halunenko’s pride is intact. He told the reporter, “No other country has created such an aircraft. Mriya”, he added quietly, “(She gave) Ukraine prestige.”          

Mickey and Me

For over twenty years, everybody with whom I have come into contact knows that I wear a Mickey Mouse watch. They usually don’t comment on it, but I know they see it. Those that do initiate a happy conversation about the of joy they take to see me wearing what is essentially child’s time piece on the left wrist. I first began to wear it as an adult and I still do as a senior. I enjoy these conversations as much as they do, especially those special people who proudly reveal that they too are wearing Mickey on their wrists.

I didn’t always wear a Mickey Mouse watch. Growing up, I wore working men watches like Bulova or Longines and later Timex. My watch wearing joined the Big Leagues when my father presented me with an Omega Constellation at the lunch he hosted for me, my mom, and my future wife, Mary Ann, at the Officers Club at the Brooklyn Navy Yard when they still built warships there.

The lunch followed my graduation ceremony from St. Francis College held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. John, Sr. who sat in the balcony couldn’t resist telling me that his perch gave him a bird’s-eye view of the fact that the hair on the knob of my head was thinning, a sure sign of future baldness.

I thanked him for the watch and I silently cursed him for his unsolicited and deliberately cruel comment about my thinning hair that merely confirmed his S.O.B. status.

But I did love that watch that I wore for many years. My crowning moment wearing it came when my bosses at Marsh & McLennan assigned me to the Exxon account as their marine broker in 1978. At that time, our principal contact point with Big Oil was through their in-house insurance company called, Ancon, domiciled in Bermuda. Ancon’s president was Trig Tonenson, a senior financial professional at Exxon.

As I sat down in his office for my interview, I spied that he was also wearing an Omega Constellation. Slowly, I let him see that I also wore a Constellationt. No mention was made of this, but I believe this coincidence helped him to decide to accept me as part of Marsh’s Exxon team.

Unfortunately, as my Constellation closed in on its twentieth-birthday it became erratic requiring me to visit Tourneau for several expensive repairs. Eventually, not even the sacrament of Extreme Unction could keep my Constellation ticking.

My sorry state of being without a watch coincided with my approaching 25th anniversary at Marsh & McLennan. I decided to pay a visit to my buddy, Rich Mikulak, in our Human Resources Department to see if I could pick out a watch for my anniversary.

I explained to Rich: “I know firms have gotten away from the tradition of awarding members a watch to celebrate their 25th Anniversary of service, but I’m a traditionalist. My question to you is, do you have a specific jeweler I can use to get a discount on a watch I really want?” 

“John, I have to inform you that since you are a Managing Director (MD) at Marsh, you no longer qualify for a 25th Anniversary gift. Bob Clements, the firm’s President, has decreed that MDs would receive a clock on their 30th Anniversary.”

“Rich,” I replied, “Of course that would be the rule and do you know why? It will be just my f***ing luck that I won’t make thirty-years! I won’t get a watch and I won’t get a clock either.”

As it happened, I retired on April 1, 2000 and missed receiving my clock by sixteen months!

In August of 1996, our adult family made a trip to Disney World. We brought our son and daughter and their respective fiancée and fiancé and had fabulous time. At one of our dinners, they presented me with Mickey One, my first authentic Mickey Mouse watch. When his little arm is on the two and his big arm is on the twelvw; it’s two-o-clock!

 From the moment I strapped it to my wrist, this Mickey and his successors are the only watches I wear. Yes, Mickey One has had many successors in the last 26-years. I quickly learned that it would cost more to replace the battery than to replace the watch. Today, I wear Mickey Eight, or is it Ten or even Thirteen? I have lost count.

My current watch is an oversized version of the classic design. Because of this Mickey’s  size, comments on my watch have increased. This makes me happy as I know the joy he brings to other people.

Long live Mickey!