(Image credit: Navsource.com)
The ship last known as the Texas Clipper began her life as a Windsor Class Attack Transport. One of a class of seven ships, her hull was laid down March 2, 1944 in Sparrows Point, MD and she was launched September 12, 1944 for the United States Maritime Commission. The United States was three years into World War II. The Maritime Commision was a government agency created in 1936 to see to the creation of 500 merchant cargo ships to replace the aging World War I era fleet that made up the Merchant Marine. It offered a subsidy system to support some of the building costs. She was transferred to the United States Navy on December 16, 1944 and commissioned the USS Queens (APA-103) and went on to serve eighteen months in World War II, mostly for service in the Far East. She was not named for royalty, but rather the burrough of New York by the same name.
In her World War II configuration per Navsource Online, she displaced 7,970 tons, was just over 473 feet long, had a beam of 66 feet and a draft of 25 feet. She was manned with 42 officers and 434 enlisted personnel and could carry troops totaling over 1,500 personnel. Queens was armed with two five inch guns and with an array of two dozen antiaircraft mounts. She was powered by one Bethlehem Steel steam turbine, two Babcock and Wilcox steam turbines and a single prop.
She saw service in the invasions and/or occupations of Iwo Jima and other key islands, carrying in troops and supplies and transporting wounded personnel back to hospital facilities. When the war ended, Queens was gearing up for the invasion of Japan. The invasion did not occur due to the atomic bomb explosions that ended the aggression and directly led to the Japanese surrender. Instead, Queens carried occupation troops into Japan in late 1945 and thereafter transported 3,400 troops from the Far East back to the United States.
For her service, Queens received the American Campaign, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, the Navy Occupation Service and the World War II Victory ribbons. She was decommissioned on June 10, 1946 and struck from the Naval Register nine days later.
She was reoutfitted and acquired by American Export Lines in late November, 1948 and renamed the USS Escambion after which she served as a trans Atlantic cruise ship for about another ten years. One of her distictions is to have been one of the first air conditioned cruise ships. For the final three decades of her life, she was loaned to the Texas Maritime Academy and renamed the Texas Clipper.
Students from Texas A&M Galveston trained on the Texas Clipper during summer cruises, essentially summer school at sea. Her color scheme became white over a maroon hull. Students maintained and operated the ship “from the bridge to the engine room.” Experienced students were called deckies who majored in marine transportation whereas snipes were marine transportation students training for careers below the decks. A strong rivalry always existed between the two. From 1965 to around 1996, she served in this capacity as a training vessel before being retired from service. It is estimated that she sailed some 250,000 miles (over ten times the circumference of the earth) in this configuration.
She lay idle for about 10 years until 2006 when she was transferred to Texas Parks and Wildlife after which she was sent to Brownsville for partial scrapping and remediation of toxic material. Texas Parks and Wildlife desired to use her as an artificial reef. On November 14, 2007 she was towed by tug to the desired location about 17 miles off Port Isabel where three days later, she was sunk at the site. To see the Texas Parks and Wildlife video segment that aired November 14, 2017 on the life of this great vessel, please use this link.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley opened in August, 2015 offering a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology. Students from UTRGV and other nearby schools can dive in and around the sunken ship as they perform research and other studies pertaining to their course curricula. In this connection, they monitor the transformation of the ship from her steel structure to a living reef. They also monitor reef fish and game fish as well as the invertebrate population. It now serves as a habitat for marine life and is an important part of the ecosystem. The first student dive was made in 2008.
The Galveston Daily News carried an article on August 15, 1993 featuring an interview with Joseph Gooby of La Marque. He had joined the United States Navy in World War II as a sixteen year old enlistee. After retiring from the Navy, he joined the Merchant Marine where he worked for many more years. Rather than retire completely, Goobly had signed on to work as a seaman on the training ship. In his spare time, he built a model of the ship. Like the former USS Queens, Gooby had come full circle, spending his whole working career on the sea. Gooby died in 1996 and his memorial service included Military Honors performed by the Texas A&M Cadet Corps Drill Team.
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