A Liberty Ship Named Delgado

by: Bob Monie
In 1941, responding to requests from the British, and quoting Patrick Henry's famous words, “give me liberty or give me death,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed that the maritime industry in selected  locations throughout the United States begin the construction of an unprecedentedly massive  fleet of cargo ships to supply the allies with war materials. The name “liberty ship” quickly caught on, and though most of these were welded from prefabricated parts at the Henry J. Kaiser plant in Richmond, California, a New Orleans plant, The Delta Ship Yard on the West Bank between Gentilly Road and Florida Ave, also welded together and launched over 180 such ships in little more than 4 years. The forges of Vulcan were nothing to the fires of the countless acetylene torches kept burning day and night, year-long, even through the Christmas holidays, as the welders and other workers—13,000 strong, including more than 400 women--at Delta Ship Yard labored in three shifts daily to turn out liberty ships with such names as the S. S. Julian Poydras and the S. S, Judah Touro for World War II. 

(Fig. 1) The August 12, 1944 Launch of the Liberty Ship, the S.S, Isaac Delgado, from the Delta Ship Yard on the Industrial Canal, West Bank.
Naval historian Peter Elphick describes how the launchings of Liberty Ships from Delta Shipyard  were more exciting to watch then those at other  World War II liberty shipyards  because the narrow launch channel  of the Industrial Canal sent the ships out “sideways,” causing them to “strike the water with such force that the wave created rose to deck height before racing off to swamp the other side of the waterway.” The woman in Fig 2 is Mrs. H. Giles Martin, ship sponsor and wife of the first director of Delgado Trades School. To her left is the distinguished doctor and medical innovator, Rudolph Matas, longtime friend of Isaac Delgado.
(Fig. 2) Mrs. H. Giles Martin, sponsor of the liberty ship and Dr. Rudolph Matas, longtime friend of Isaac Delgado
(Fig. 3) The Crowd Attending the Event and the Reviewing Stand
(Fig. 4) Delta Shipyard Employee, F. Crumb, Pushing the Button to Launch the Isaac Delgado
Shipyard workers took turns serving as  “button pushers” to press the button that would release each new ship out of its dry dock so it could begin sliding into the water.  According to the October 9, 1944 issue of the shipyard's newsletter, The Delta Shipbuilder, a female clerk named F. Crumb had the honor of pushing the button to launch the S. S, Isaac Delgado (see Fig. 3). The ship descended into the water in distinctive New Orleans style, amid drum rolls, fanfares, and march music from The Delta Band, directed by Henry Raymond. The band, situated somewhere behind the reviewing stand in Fig. 4 but  out front for review in Fig. 5, included such stalwart crescent city natives as trombonist Jac Assunto, who would later found the Dukes of Dixieland band, clarinetist Lester Bouchon,  often later  heard performing at the Beachcomber Lounge just 4 blocks from Delgado Trades School, and Joe Grisaffi,  known in the  '50s and '60s as a music instrument repairman at Gruenwald's Music Store in downtown New Orleans. During their time at Delta, each musician doubled in some shipbuilding trade, such as machinist, welder, electrician, draftsperson, painter, or sheet metal worker. These men and women helped win the war.

(Fig. 5) The Delta Shipyard Band Giving a New Orleans Send-Off to the S. S. Isaac Delgado
The Delta Shipbuilder reports that some Delta workers, like Red Goss, a “burner leaderman on Birth 3” in the shipyard, somehow made time within their arduous shift schedules to attend evening courses in acetylene welding at Delgado Trades School in preparation “for the post-war period.”
Their ability to mass-produce liberty ships like the S.S. Isaac Delgado gave them courage that the allies would soon win the war, and their attendance at Delgado let them envision a hopeful future for themselves in the workplace after the war was over. 

Works Consulted

“Button Pushers Who Released Recently Launched Ships.”  The Delta Shipbuilder Oct. 19, 1944:

Elphick, Peter.  Liberty: The Ships That Won the War.  Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute,

Kelly, John.  “Women Welders at Delta Shipbuilding Co. Receive Award.”  The Times Picayune
        September 12, 2010. 
        Retrieved from <http://www.nola.com/living.index.ssf/2010/09/1943_women_welders_at
        delta sh.html>. 

Kelly, John.  “1944: Delta Shipbuilding Co. Built Liberty Ships during World War II.”  The Times
        Picayune March 17, 2010.
        Retrieved from <http://www.nola.com/living/index.ssf/2010/03/delta_shipbuilding_co_built_li.

“Red Goss, A Burner Leaderman on Berth 3”  The Delta Shipbuilder May 4, 1944: 16.

Williams, E.B.  “The Delta Shipyard.”  Marine Engine and Shipping Review April 1943: 192-201.

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