Looking Back at Baylor: The Good Ship “Baylor Victory”

This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in June 1979, then was reprinted in Looking Back at Baylor (1985), a collection of Keeth and Harry Marsh’s historical columns for the Line. Blogging about Texas periodically features selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.

We dedicate this post to the military men and women who serve our country and to the memory of those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

S.S. Baylor Victory publicity photo
You can just make out the “Victory” on the left and “Baylor” on the right of this photo, taken at the shipyard before launching.

Early in 1945 Baylor President Pat M. Neff received an unexpected communication from the United States Maritime Commission. This letter informed him that a new ship, then under construction in a shipyard near Los Angeles, would be named in honor of Baylor University. It would be one of the “Victory” series of merchant vessels, intended to provide “muscle behind the fists of the armed services,” and was designed for use in either war or peace. According to early information, its date of launching would be “on or about March 1, 1945.”

Neff soon wrote to inquire whether Baylor University might have a part in the launching of its namesake vessel. Informed that a representative of the university would be permitted to make a brief address during the christening ceremonies, Neff arranged for Los Angeles District Judge Minor L. Moore, a Baylor graduate of 1900 who had been an outstanding student orator, to participate in the program. He also raised a hundred dollars for the purchase of a library of about forty volumes for use by the ship’s crew.

Baylor Lariat article about the launch of the S.S. Baylor Victory
“In the year of grace when the whole world is convulsed by the totality of war, when the vicious are allied with the enemies of freedom, the naval arm of our government should christen a fighting ship with the name of Baylor,” Moore declared, according to this March 9 article in the Baylor Lariat.

When the schedule of the launching became known, Judge Moore wrote wryly to President Neff of his discovery that “the limit of the speech to be made by the representative of Baylor is one and a half minutes.” Neff, amused by the strictures which this limitation would impose upon his old friend’s easy flow of words, replied with some tongue-in-cheek advice: “Now, Minor, you need not feel that you must use all of this time unless the inspiration of the occasion just compels you to do so. The early morning air will be so invigorating that I feel sure as you stand on the deck of this ship bearing the Baylor name and look out onto the great Pacific, you will have inspiration to occupy nearly all of your minute and a half.”

As matters developed, the date of the launching was moved from March 1 to March 6, and the time, which was regulated by the occurrence of high tide, was set for 1:20 a.m. A participant later described the scene in a letter to President Neff: “The night was very dark; but time and time we were almost awed by the myriad of lights which illuminated the different war plants and ship yards. The display was far more breathtaking than the lighting of any great fair or centennial. Some of the buildings of Standard Oil rose like domes of light or spread into a cascading shower of individual lights which reminded one of some dream or fairyland. Our passes cleared heavily policed gates and doors…Then we went to the dock for the launching. Flood lights brilliantly illuminated…the ship which loomed so far up, up above us that we had to look very high up with heads way back to see all of her: yet, we were aware that by comparison she was a small ship.”

Despite the inconvenience and lateness of the hour, Baylor was represented at the launching by a total of about a dozen and a half graduates and friends, one of whom carried in her arms a plush teddy bear with a green and gold ribbon around its neck. Judge Moore delivered his address of 185 well-chosen words, ending with the valedictory, “All hail, Baylor Victory!” Then, as the ship’s sponsor christened the vessel with a bottle of champagne, the S.S. Baylor Victory glided into the water of the Pacific Ocean and began her naval career.

S.S. Baylor Victory was launched only a few months before the Allies celebrated V-E Day. We assume the ship was used in the last months of World War II; we know it went to Korea. We believe it may have become part of a shipping company’s fleet after that.

S.S. Baylor Victory, photo and model
The top photo is the ship; the bottom one also is labeled “Baylor Victory,” but the model doesn’t look the same as the real ship. What do you think? (Updated: We’ve been informed that the upper image is indeed a Victory ship, while the lower is a tanker. We’re not sure why the images were put together, though–that’s still a mystery!)