I’m sure many of you already know this fact, but were you aware that before Ouachita got its current title of Ouachita Baptist University, it was named Ouachita Baptist College?
Who knew that there also was a ship out there named in honor of Ouachita? During World War II, the SS Ouachita Victory was a Victory-class cargo ship launched in 1945 from Wilmington, Calif., and it was named after Ouachita Baptist College. Bet you didn’t know that! (Ouachita changed its name to Ouachita Baptist University in 1965.)
The SS in SS Ouachita Victory stands for “steamship.” Although the Ouachita was not directly associated with the U.S. Navy, it was used during the war efforts. The 455-foot-long ship was built by the California Shipbuilding Corporation. It had three decks and could travel at speeds up to 15 knots (that’s equivalent to 17.3 miles per hour). Victory ships typically were used for transporting goods and troops, not for battle. However, the ship was lightly armed with small guns. The construction cost of $2.5 million in 1945 is equivalent to about $35 million today.
During World War II, the Ouachita was one of 534 ships built. And it was one of only 150 vessels named after colleges or universities. In fact, the Ouachita was the 24th Victory ship named after an educational institution. Here’s the coolest part: Ouachita was the only college or university in Arkansas to receive such an honor.
How did this ship get named in honor of Ouachita? It actually was pretty simple. A former Ouachita student requested in a letter than the Victory ship be named after our university. Through the combined efforts of this former student, U.S. Congressman Oren Harris and the Arkadelphia Lions Club, the SS Ouachita Victory had a name.
The cargo-carrying vessel was under the command of Captain Henry Chase. The ship has been reported to have docked at various ports around the world, including Calcutta, India; Stockholm, Sweden; Trieste, Italy; and several ports in Greece. Companies that operated the ship included the Bull Steamship Company, the Mississippi Shipping Company and the States Marine Corporation.
Only three of the 368 Victory ships remain as museum ships. Sadly, the SS Ouachita Victory was scrapped for metal, but its legacy continues as a unique part of Ouachita history.
Based on an article by Russell Bowlin in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
By Stephanie Bell, a senior communications and media major from Stuttgart, Ark.
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