S.S. Richard J. Oglesby

Unknown to most people in Decatur or Illinois, the name “Richard J. Oglesby” was heard once again 44 years after the governor’s death. It wasn’t used in connection to a Civil War book or a statue, but his name was remembered in a very special way. In the midst of World War II, the nation, in an effort to supply American troops and our allies overseas, created one of the great tools which helped win the war. “Liberty Ships,” which were quickly built cargo ships, became an enormous factor in keeping American and allied forces supplied with weapons, food, and other equipment. The governor, who was also a Civil War general, was honored as one of these ships was named after him.

The S.S. Richard J. Oglesby, with hull number #2526, began its life far from Oglesby’s beloved Illinois. Yet, in a twist of fate, it came to life only a mere state away from where he made a small fortune during his California Gold Rush adventures. In Portland, Oregon, on October 27, 1943, the hull was laid. A standard design was used, making this ship identical to many of its sister ships. Its builder, the Oregon Ship Building Corporation of Portland, completed the ship on November 15, 1943. This extremely fast schedule was typical for Liberty Ships. Their speedy production schedule and the large numbers built were a big part of their amazing contribution to winning the war. They soon became so numerous on the high seas that the enemy could not hope to stop them all. The connection to Oregon continued as the ship’s engine was also built in Portland by the Iron Fireman Manufacturing Company.

While research still needs to be done about the S.S. Richard J. Oglesby’s war record, including finding where it journeyed, needless to say, it did its part like many other Liberty Ships during World War II. Throughout its life, it carried the name of Decatur’s most beloved son and friend of Lincoln into yet another war in another century when the nation needed its help. Like so many other Liberty Ships, the S.S. Richard J. Oglesby ended its days in the years after the war with little mention. After 15 years afloat, it was scrapped in 1958 in Alameda, California. With its days at an end, it is now but a memory. Yet, its legacy, like that of Governor Oglesby, still remains one of proud service to our nation in wartime.

Article by Brent Wielt