Looking back at 1944 launching of USS Manderson

by marlys good

The USS Manderson, a Boulder Victory Class World War II cargo ship, was launched Nov. 3, 1944. There are probably very few people who know that the small Wyoming town had a ship named in its honor and that that ship was christened by Manderson postmaster/town clerk Florence Reed Robertson (mother of Dixie Johnson of Greybull).

If you are wondering why Manderson got the honor of being namesake for a navy ship, according to an article that appeared in the Northern Wyoming Daily News in September 1944, “The honor was accorded Manderson for the record in subscribing fully 200 percent of the war bond drives.”

As for being selected to christen the ship, in addition to being the Manderson postmaster/town clerk, “Mrs. Robertson’s husband, Charles B. Robertson, died in a Japanese prison camp at Shanghai, China, after being captured on Wake Island, where he was engaged in construction work.”

The ship was launched on Sept. 23, 1944, at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, Calif. Accompanying Robertson to California was her good friend (photos called her the “matron of honor”) Cleo Pickett.

The history of launching a ship goes back 4,000 years, and has included human sacrifice, the spilling of blood, incantations by high priests because it was believed “the gods, it was hoped, would be propitiated by such rites.”

These rites fell by the wayside centuries ago. The USS Manderson was launched with a bottle of champagne. Photos show Robertson grimacing as a froth of liquid escapes the broken bottle of bubbly.

The sponsor and matron of honor were escorted on a tour of the ship, the “Harmonettes” presented appropriate music and a banquet were included in the festivities.

The victory ship carried a plaque inscribed with pictures of Manderson plus a brief inscription describing the town.

“…a tiny, peaceful mid-western village of some 106 souls…located between two rivers, the muddy Big Horn and the clear, sweet Nowood, it represents the typical western cow-country town. To the east rise sand hills, barren and colorful, topped by the rugged tree-covered slopes of the majestic Big Horn Mountains – a sight ever dear to the inhabitants of the village.

“…Manderson has always been a community of hardy, public-spirited citizens; sons and daughters have struggled with soil and plow and have gone to war when need be, to keep it the way they have made it – “the American way of life.” Those left behind have carried on with staunch hearts, have produced more, worked longer hours, and have subscribed fully 200 percent to war bond drives in this crisis. All America is proud of this, just a typical American community in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The USS Manderson was decommissioned on May 10, 1946. According to official statistics it had sailed 48,181 nautical miles, handled 29,425 tons of ammunition, served fur battleships, 11 large aircraft carriers, five small carriers and 22 escort carriers, five heavy and one light cruisers, four destroyers and a destroyer escort, 10 seaplane tenders, issued ammunition to 12 Navy ammunition carriers, loaded three LSTs and issued ammunition to nine others, and carried a 1,678,000-pound load of raw sugar. It was awarded a battle star for World War II service.

After being decommissioned it was returned to the War Shipping Administration; she entered the Maritime Commission National Defense Reserve Fleet at James River, Va., in 1953, and in July 1966, was leased to Farrell Lines, Inc., in New York for service as a freighter.

Forty-nine years later, on Aug. 4, 1993, the USS Manderson was sold to Nishant Import and Export for scrapping.

As for the widow and “ship-launcher” Florence Robinson, she returned to the little town of Manderson, to her job as postmaster/town clerk, and raising her three young children.

She later married Glen Patrick. Dixie recalls her mother talking about the launching of the ship, “but I wasn’t even born then,” she laughs. She recalls seeing the numerous black and white photos in the scrapbook entitled: “Launching of the SS Manderson Victory, Sept. 23, 1944,” presented to her mother by The Permanente Metals Corporation, Shipyard Number One, Richmond, Calif. A priceless memento.

After Robertson-Patrick’s death, memorabilia of the launching was divided among the surviving children and Dixie fell heir to the scrapbook that she shared with the Standard.