The ship’s voyage from thirty years of war service to a historic preservation site reached a crescendo on September 23, 2003 when the steam turbine engines were restarted for the first time since 1985 and SS American Victory set sail for her first of many Relive History cruises. Over 400 Tampa residents cruised on American Victory’s decks to Skyway Bridge with a restored Navy T-38 Trojan fighter plane from 1949 as escort. After four years and four days of restoration totaling 80,000 donated volunteer hours from skilled engineers, electricians, welders, fabricators, paint and rust-remediation experts, and experience mariners, American Victory joined the small fleet of four WWII-era ships restored to working order.
And the restoration never ends. Almost one million volunteer hours since 1998 has gone into the continuing restoration of this small piece of American history. The ship’s history is obscure yet the story of the Victory ships and American war production during World War II includes the history of women in the work force, the mobilization of the Home Front, and America’s involvement in international humanitarian relief efforts. American Victory was built to participate in Operation Downfall, the land invasion of Japan called off after the Emperor’s surrender. The ship’s U.S. Merchant Marine crew spent the first five months after the war moving cargo around Southeast Asia with ports-of-call in Manila Bay (Philippines), the Port of Shanghai (China), and the Port of Calcutta (India) before making its way to New York City on Feb. 4th, 1946. The American Victory Museum is a U.S. military memorial with a particular focus on the 8,651 Merchant Mariners and 733 ships lost during WWII. The casualty rate for the U.S. Merchant Marine was one-in-24, the highest of any service.
Constructed in just 55 days at California Ship in San Pedro, CA, American Victory (Hull # 792) was named after American University in Washington, D.C. for the college’s contributions to the war efforts in the First World War and WWII. At this late point in the war in April/May 1945, over 90% of the workforce that built American Victory were women as most of the nation’s fighting-age men were deployed. ‘Rosie the Riveter’ and ‘Wanda the Welder’ became American icons utilized by U.S. Government to bolster factory employment numbers among American women of all races, ages, and economic classes. The Port of Tampa’s historical World War II production docks hired thousands of these ‘Rosies’ and ‘Wandas’ to build thousands of ships and submarines for the war effort (those docks can be seen from the port bow of the American Victory). Today, Rosie the Riveter has become a symbol of female empowerment and is a multi-generational American icon for women in the work place.
The work on American Victory continues today not just in the preservation of a 72-year-old cargo ship, but also as an educational resource and a center for historical research. The museum hosts several guided tours a week, including public, private, and charter schools K-12, and presents a platform for local university museum studies students to learn their craft.