SS Meredith

The SS Meredith Victory Christmas Miracle.

As the adage goes; “to the victor goes the spoils” and so it was with regard to the United States and the USSR. Following the surrender of Japan, in August of 1945, the Korean Peninsula which had previously been under the control of Imperial Japan, was divided in two along the 38th parallel. The north was held by the Soviets and the south by the United States. By the end of the decade, two new nations had formed, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south.

In June of 1950, in a surprise invasion, nearly 75,000 soldiers of the People’s Republic of Korea crossed the 38th parallel and took control of much of South Korea, including its capital city, Seoul. In an effort to contain the perceived communist expansionist goals of the Soviets, the United States came to the aid of South Korea under the banner of the United Nations and in a powerful counter assault pushed the People’s Republic of Korea army back across the 38th parallel. By the end of the summer of 1950, the two Korean armies with their Superpower and U.N. benefactors were at a stalemate, battling back and forth over the 38th parallel. At that point, Asian Theater Commander, General Douglas MacArthur and President Truman decided to push hard into North Korea. At first, the counter invasion was quite successful but this soon angered the Chinese who feared a threat to their boarders. In the fall of 1950, the Chinese Communists entered the war and pushed the combined U.S., South Korean armies back.

By December of 1950 some 100,000 United Nations Command troops and nearly 100,000 more civilians found themselves cut off from retreat and trapped at the port city of Hungman. With the Communists rapidly approaching, President Harry Truman issued an executive order authorizing the use of 193 Naval and Merchant vessels to evacuate troops, equipment and civilian refugees from the port of Hungman. By December 21, all that remained were 14,000 Korean civilians who desperately desired to escape the coming Communist threat. This is where the Christmas miracle occurred.

The SS Meredith Victory was a WWII Victory cargo ship. It was just 455 feet long and 62 feet wide, quite small by today’s standards. It was designed to accommodate 47 crewmen and 12 passengers. The ship’s captain was a seasoned WWII mariner by the name of Leonard LaRue. The Meredith, which was on loan to the U.S. Navy, had received orders to proceed to the port of Hungman to retrieve military supplies, however upon arrival, Captain LaRue was shocked at what he saw. ”I trained my binoculars and saw a pitiable scene. Refugees thronged the docks. With them was everything they could wheel, carry or drag. Beside them, like frightened chicks, were their children.” Confronted with this human suffering, LaRue was moved to action. He ordered that the ship be offloaded of all cargo and on the night of December 22nd, they began to board refugees. Makeshift elevators were created to move people to the lower cargo holds as efficiently as possible. All the while, the perimeter of the city was being aerially bombarded in an effort to hold off the Communists. By the next morning, over 14,000 refugees had boarded the Meredith. With the evacuation complete, the Meredith sailed from Hungman, as UNC gunfire destroyed the port city so as to leave nothing of value to the enemy.

The Meredith Victory sailed for the port of Pusan, some 28 hours away, arriving on Christmas Eve. However, upon arrival they were not allowed to disembark do to a refugee crisis which had already overwhelmed that city. Meanwhile, the human suffering aboard the vessel was intense. There was no water, no food and no sanitation. It was also winter and there was no heat. As the ship sailed on to the port of Koje Do another 50 miles south of Pusan, the refugees aboard were left standing literally shoulder to shoulder for two more days. Finally, on December 26th, every refugee, including 5 babies who were born aboard ship, were able to safely disembark and begin their new lives in South Korea.

Captain LaRue continued to sail as Captain of the SS Meredith Victory until it was decommissioned in 1952. He sailed two more years before leaving the sea to begin a new life as a Benedictine Monk. ”I was always somewhat religious,” he reflected a decade after carrying out the Hungman evacuation. ”All the things in my life helped to cement my determination to enter the monastery.” However, it was the evacuation of Hungman that was the turning point in his life. ”I think often of that voyage. I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul. The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God’s own hand was at the helm of my ship.” Captain Leonard LaRue went home to meet his Lord on October 14, 2001 at the age of 87. Well done Captain.
The SS Meredith Victory was one of only 41 ships to ever receive the Gallant Ship Award for “participating in outstanding or gallant action in a marine disaster or other emergency to save life or property at sea”. The Guiness Book of Records recognized the Meredith Victory for its role in the “greatest single rescue in the history of mankind.”
I hope that you know that God is still in the refugee business. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8 God bless you all and Merry Christmas.
See you on the road.
Bob Anton: Christian Motorcyclists Association
For more information on CMA or questions or comments concerning this column, please contact Bob Anton at 631-897-8122 or baftmny@aol.com

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