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Exploring the SS Jeremiah O’Brien and USS Pampanito: A Journey Through History

When you visit San Francisco and explore its rich maritime heritage, two remarkable vessels stand out as living testaments to history – the SS Jeremiah O’Brien and the USS Pampanito. These World War II veterans offer a captivating journey back in time, allowing you to experience the stories of brave sailors and the vital role these ships played during the war. Here’s everything you need to know about these historic vessels and why you should make them a must-visit during your stay in the Bay Area.

SS Jeremiah O’Brien: A Living Museum of WWII

Location: Pier 35, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Why Visit?

  • Historical Significance: The SS Jeremiah O’Brien is one of only two fully functional Liberty ships remaining from the 2,710 constructed during World War II. It’s the last unaltered Liberty ship, offering a unique opportunity to step back in time to the days of high seas and enemy threats.
  • National Landmark: This living museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark, ensuring its preservation for generations to come.
  • Immersive Experience: Visitors can explore virtually the entire ship, from the engine room to the flying bridge. The ship’s boilers are even “lit off,” and on special Steaming Weekends, the 2500-horsepower main engine operates, providing an up-close look at its machinery in action.
  • Restoring History: The National Liberty Ship Memorial’s mission is to restore, promote, and operate the SS Jeremiah O’Brien as a living museum. By visiting, you contribute to preserving the legacy of the men and women who built and sailed these vital World War II vessels.

History of the O’Brien

  • The Beginning: The SS Jeremiah O’Brien was launched in June 1943 at the New England Shipbuilding Corporation in South Portland, Maine. It served in various voyages during World War II, including the D-Day invasion, before being laid up in Suisun Bay after the war.
  • Out of the Mothball Fleet: In the 1970s, Rear Adm. Thomas J. Patterson saved the O’Brien from scrapyard oblivion. Skilled volunteers removed layers of preservatives, and the ship made a triumphant return to San Francisco after restoration.
  • Return to Normandy: In 1994, the O’Brien embarked on an epic journey, retracing its history to England and France for the 50th Anniversary of Operation Overlord. It was reviewed by the Queen of England and visited by the U.S. President, symbolizing the enduring legacy of Liberty ships.

Visit Details

  • The SS Jeremiah O’Brien is fully seaworthy and open to the public, moored at Pier 35, The Embarcadero.
  • Steaming Weekends, usually the third Saturday and Sunday of each month, offer a chance to see the engine plant in action.
  • Check the calendar for San Francisco Bay cruises and other events.
  • The ship relies on volunteers and donations for its operations.
  • Contact: +1 415-544-0100, liberty@ssjeremiahobrien.orgssjeremiahobrien.org

USS Pampanito: A Silent Service Memorial

Location: Historic Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Why Visit?

  • Meticulous Restoration: The USS Pampanito (SS-383) is a beautifully restored World War II diesel-electric powered submarine. It serves as both a museum and a memorial to those who served in the “silent service.”
  • Heroic Record: Built in just nine months in 1943 at the Navy Yard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Pampanito made six patrols in the Pacific, sinking six enemy ships and damaging four others.
  • Educational Experience: Pampanito offers self-guided audio tours and, by arrangement, docent-led tours. It’s a unique opportunity to step inside a WWII submarine and learn about its crucial role.

History of the Pampanito

  • WWII Service: Pampanito conducted patrols off Kyūshū, Shikoku, and Honshū, earning six battle stars for its service during World War II.
  • Post-War Life: After the war, Pampanito underwent various assignments and was eventually decommissioned in 1971. It was turned into a memorial and museum in 1975.
  • National Historic Landmark: In 1986, Pampanito was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark.

Visit Details

  • Pampanito is open daily to the public at Historic Pier 45.
  • Visitors can enjoy self-guided audio tours and, with prior arrangements, docent-led tours.
  • The USS Pampanito Amateur Radio Club operates from the submarine, bringing the radio room to life on selected Saturdays.
  • The ship offers educational programs and even the opportunity for organized groups to spend the night in the submarine.
  • Pampanito has undergone several maintenance dry dockings and still boasts working parts, including a torpedo tube and periscope.
  • Contact: maritime.org/uss-pampanito

When you visit the SS Jeremiah O’Brien and USS Pampanito, you’re not just exploring historic vessels; you’re stepping into the past and connecting with the incredible stories of those who served during World War II. These living museums in the heart of San Francisco are a testament to the courage and determination of the men and women who built, sailed, and defended these vital ships. Don’t miss the chance to experience this piece of history during your visit to the Bay Area.


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