Greatest Rescue Operation by a single ship in History
What follows is a story that the U.S. Maritime Administration has called the “greatest rescue operation by a single ship in history.’ The saga began on December 23, 1950, and ended on Christmas Day, 1950. The man in charge was Captain Leonard LaRue.
Leonard LaRue was born in Philadelphia on January 14, 1914. He was trained at the Pennsylvania State Nautical School, receiving his certification in 1934. He began his career working on ships coming into and going out of New York. He then joined the Moore-McCormack Line in 1942 as a second mate.
In 1944 he was promoted to Master and given his own ship. He then became a U.S. Merchant Marine Captain in command of a small freighter called the S. S. Meredith Victory. When the Korean War began, his mission was to bring supplies to American soldiers sent to Korea.
As Bill Gilbert described the situation in his book, “Ship of Miracles-14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage;
From Book; Ship of Miracles
“in bone-chilling temperatures and howling winds, with the imminent threat of enemy gunfire aimed at his ship from the beach and return fire from the USS Missouri, four destroyers, two heavy cruisers and with four rocket ships sailing over him back toward the shore, destiny was summoning the 37-year-old Merchant Marine captain from Philadelphia.
“Captain Leonard LaRue stood on the deck of his five-year-old, ten-thousand-ton freighter, the SS Meredith Victory, in the harbor at Hungnam, North Korea, 135 miles into enemy territory, in the sixth month of the Korean War, Christmastime 1950. “I trained my binoculars on the shore and saw a pitiable scene,” he later wrote. “Korean refugees thronged the docks. With them was everything they could wheel, carry, or drag. Beside them, like frightened chicks, were their children.”
Captain LaRue’s ship was one of the last ships in the Port of Hungnam. 14,000 refugees remained. The S. S. Meredith Victory was designed to hold 47 people, consisting of officers and crew. Captain LaRue ordered all cargo, weapons, and anything that occupied space to be removed from the ship. When they finished stripping the small ship of everything movable, Captain Larue asked the refugees to get on board. It had taken a full day to unload the ship and then bring the refugees on board. The ship left on December 23. 1950.
Packed together like sardines
The refuges, men, women, and children, were packed together “like sardines.” Somehow, someway, all 14,000 people were crammed onto the ship. There was no food, no water, and no sanitary facilities available. Captain LaRue must have been horrified when he heard that the refugees, trying to stay warm, were building fires on top of the kerosene drums in the hold. No wonder he was quoted as saying, “I believe that God sailed with us during those three days.”
The ship docked at Pusan on Christmas Eve. Captain LaRue was told there was no room for anyone there. He managed to leave the injured and five women with their newborn babies. He also managed to get some blankets and water. They then set sail for Kojo-Do, an island 50 miles southwest. They arrived there on Christmas Day. It took 24 hours to unload all of the passengers.
Captain LaRue becomes Brother Marinus
Captain LaRue joined the Benedictines in 1954. His experience as captain of the S. S. Meredith Victory was the driving force in his decision to enter the monastery. Another quote from Captain LaRue in Bill Gilbert’s book, “Ship of Miracles—is;
“I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul,” he said later. “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 entered the Benedictine monastery in Newton, N. J. in 1954, taking the name Brother Marinus. He lived there until his passing in 2001. His cause for canonization was opened by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., on March 25, 2019. Brother Marinus is now known as Servant of God Marinus LaRue.
Servant of God, Marinus LaRue; Please pray for us.