During World War II cargo vessels known as Liberty ships ferried supplies to Europe and Asia through hostile waters where enemy submarines hunted for them. Over 2700 Liberty ships were built during the war. Only one of these ships was named for a living person, the SS Francis J. O’Gara.
Who was Francis O’Gara and how did he receive this rare honor?
Photo: David Nixon navsource.org
The SS Francis J. O’Gara was launched on June 8, 1945. The O’Gara bore the name of a heroic merchant marine who had been a sports writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer before entering the service. O’Gara was aboard the freighter Jean Nicolet, which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Indian Ocean on July 4, 1944. The few survivors who were rescued reported the rest of the crew either went down with the ship or were machine gunned by the enemy.
When the U.S. Maritime Commission decided to name a Liberty for O’Gara, his sister, Mary, christened the ship with the traditional bottle of champagne as her mother stood by. They would later find out that Francis was still alive! He was one of three survivors of the Jean Nicolet captured and taken aboard the Japanese submarine. The other two prisoners were the ship’s skipper, Captain David Nilsson and radio operator Augustus Tilden.
Francis O’Gara was freed Oct. 28, 1945 from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. When O’Gara’s ship docked in San Francisco, it pulled in alongside the S.S. O’Gara, making this merchant marine the only living person with a Liberty ship named for him.
Photo: Robert Hurst navsource.org
During the Cold War, the SS Francis J. O’Gara was acquired by the US Navy, converted to a Radar Picket Ship and recommissioned in 1957 as the USS Outpost (AGR-10 and YAGR-10). She was decommissioned in 1965 and sold for scrap in 1971 at Biboa, Spain.
Francis J. O’Gara died September 18, 1981, at the age of 69.
Genealogy info from the various published sources:
Francis J O’Gara (6/14/1912-9/18/1981). He was born in Blackstone, Mass. to James O’Gara, of Woonsocket, RI and Margaret McManus of Blackstone. He had a sister, Mary O’Gara. He married a Miss O’Donoghue in 1946 at Philadelphia, PA. They had a least one child named Francis J. O’Gara, Jr.
sources: Out of the Past: After World War II, shipyard declared ‘surplus’ property
Slaughter at sea: the story of Japan’s naval war crimes By Mark Felton
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