By Jim Buchanan
In 1944 a ship bearing Jackson County’s name appeared.
And then it seems to have disappeared.
Of course, it didn’t actually disappear, but records of it have, if not disappeared, hidden themselves very, very well.
As such, we don’t know what became of the ship.
During World War II, bond drives helped fuel the war effort, and towns and counties were rewarded as best they could be by the government for their efforts. By surpassing its quota for the fifth bond drive of the war, Jackson County, along with five other counties that shot past their goal, were honored with a ship bearing their names.
A brief editorial in the Oct. 18, 1944 Sylva Herald offered the tale:
“As two new landing ships slid down the launching ways into the quiet-flowing Cooper river at the Charleston Navy Yard they bore the names of 12 North Carolina counties that oversubscribed their 5th War Loan quotas. Jackson County was among the names on the large shield carrying the names on the prow of the ships. Each of the two ships contained six names of North Carolina counties so honored. Eight other ships are under construction at the Navy Yard which will carry the names of the other counties going over their 5th War Loan quotas. There were 57 counties of the state that oversubscribed their quotas last summer. Governor and Mrs. Broughton and Mrs. Charles T. Leinbach of Winston-Salem, wife of the State chairman, were on the launching platform and smashed the silver-mesh encased bottles of champagne against the bows of the invasion ships. Jackson County citizens feel justly proud that the county’s name appears among the others on the ships. It proves that our people on the home-front are doing their part in the great struggle toward winning the war by furnishing their money with which to build ships, planes, guns and other supplies so necessary if we are to win the victory we expect.”
After that, we couldn’t find a mention of the ship.
Hopefully someone kept track of it here in Jackson and can fill us in. The aforementioned editorial simply didn’t leave enough clues to follow the ship’s fate. The other counties weren’t named.
The exact type of troop ship wasn’t described either, which complicates things a bit. A lot, actually.
You hear the word “ship” and you think “Navy.” But in WWII the U.S. Army operated nearly 130,000 waterborne craft.
These included amphibious assault craft, barges, minelayers, hospital ships, transport and troop ships. Counting only the numbered and named vessels, there were still 14,000.
History has had a hard time tracking some of them.
Some of the notable Army ships were LSTs, the ships that delivered punch to shore during amphibious invasions. These ships served honorably, but at war’s end the Army had a lot of vessels it didn’t need, so many LSTs were cut up for scrap, sold to private interests or transferred to other governments.
Others had more interesting careers. One LST named for a North Carolina county, the USS Harnett County, saw service in WWII and extensive service during the Vietnam War. She was transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy and after that war she would up in the hands of the Philippine Navy.
She’s still fighting today, at least in a fashion. In 1999 the Philippine government grounded the vessel on a shoal in the Spratly Islands as part of the ongoing ownership dispute over that island between the Philippines and China.
The Harnett was made habitable enough for Filipino Marines to stay about and use the grounded hulk as sort of a watchtower to keep an eye on the Chinese.
A flurry of activity by Chinese coast guard ships sparked a diplomatic row between the nation just two weeks ago.
The story of the ship named in part for Jackson County likely isn’t so colorful, but we’d still like to find out its fate. Anyone with info can feel free to contact the Herald at email@example.com.