Take a Trip on a Survey Ship: USNS Michelson (T-AGS-23)
For 17 years (1958-75) Michelson collected data about the earth's oceans and created navigational charts.
John Hansen was a member of the ship's Navy oceanographic team from late 1962 through 1964.
Here are his recollections and reminiscences of people, places and ports of call.



Starboard side profile of USNS Michelson (T-AGS-23).
Launched in 1944 as SS Joliet Victory, this VC2-S-AP3 class vessel was converted to a deep ocean survey ship in 1958.
The kingposts just forward of the superstructure were removed. Only the #4 hold retained its cargo handling gear.
Not pictured are the #5 and #6 lifeboats, on each side just aft of the #4 hold.
The OC Hoist was installed later at the stern.

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Michelson at Port Canaveral



Michelson called at Port Canaveral twice during the spring of 1964 while testing the newly installed SASS sonar in Bahamas waters. These photos were taken during the ship's three week visit from April 6-27.

Before Disney and before it became a home for cruise ships, Port Canaveral was a rather quiet place, serving commercial shipping and Atlantic Test Range vessels. There was also a small marina offering sport fishing charters.

Due to a shortage of dock space, Michelson had to move from one berth to another on both sides of the harbor. Commercial vessels had priority. We had to anchor offshore for one night when our pierside spot was pre-empted by the Tropicana orange juice ship.

Note the jackstaff flag is flying at half staff. This was in honor of General Douglas  MacArthur, who died on April 5, 1964.



The ship returned to Port Canaveral on May 4 for ten days. Michelson also called at Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) and the Port of  Palm Beach (Riviera Beach) later in the spring and summer of 1964.

SS Joliet Victory at Iwo Jima

One of 18 US merchant vessels supporting the battle of Iwo Jima, SS Joliet Victory was present there from March 5 - 13, 1945. Her cargo was artillery ammunition. Three pages of action reports in the National Archives mention the ship, two from destroyer USS Stanly (DD478) and another from USS Harry Lee (APA10).

Earlier in the war, the ship participated in the landings at Leyte in November 1944 and the January 1945 operations at Lingayen Gulf. After the war SS Joliet Victory was laid up in the Hudson River reserve fleet during 1948, but reactivated for Korean war service from 1950 to 1953. Renamed USNS Michelson in 1958, the ship began a new career as a deep ocean survey vessel.


SS Joliet Victory Crew List from 1953

Toward the end of her Korean war service, the ship sailed from Yokohama to Honolulu (Pearl Harbor), arriving on September 11, 1953. Then operated by Alaska Steamship Company, Joliet Victory was manned by 48 crew members, all listed on the crew manifest for US Customs and Immigration. 

Here are the two pages of the official document as found in the National Archives.

A somewhat more detailed (and magnified) view of the crew manifest can be seen here.

Note that one crew member, a messman, failed to appear by sailing time at Yokohama and was replaced during a port call at Guam. 

The ship's operating crew as a  commercial vessel was somewhat smaller than when operated later by MSTS/MSC as USNS Michelson.

Memories of SS Joliet Victory

The Diary of a Seaman Aboard SS Joliet Victory

A dealer in original manuscripts has for sale the diary of a merchant seaman  who served aboard SS Joliet Victory in 1944. Below is a description of the diary from the dealer's website, shown here by editorial license.

1944 FASCINATING ORIGINAL HANDWRITTEN JOURNAL OF A HARD-DRINKING, SHORT-TEMPERED EVERYMAN, WORKING AS A CARPENTER ON THE SS JOLIET, WORKING HARD ON DUTY, DRINKING AND FIGHTING WHEN OFF

On offer is the fascinating 1944 diary of Walter Trent, a hard-drinking, tough carpenter on the SS Joliet [Victory] during World War 2.

Trent works on the ship, as it makes stops in the Mediterranean first, and then moves on to the Pacific theater of World War 2. This diary is a very interesting document of WW2 history, showing the tasks and life of a non-combat naval personnel during the war. Most of the longest entries in the diary are accounts of shore leave and downtime. These passages are where this document is most interesting. The diary shows the curious day-to-day events that transpired in the life of someone during war, as opposed to the specifics of combat or military campaigns. The diary is signed on the front page, “Walter W. Trent 320 N. Rosine Ave. Somerset, PA.” The diary is interesting in that each entry uses both the verso and recto of the whole page.

The first entry, spanning both the left and right page is dated June 4, 1944 and states, “Left N.Y.C. and went to Baltimore in the afternoon. Arrived and could not find a room in any hotel. Finally went to the Officer’s Club and got a room through them at Mr.s Florence Blades at 1220 Park Ave. Had a big front room and bath. Very nice place.” The next day, he joins the S.S. Joliet “to take coal to Naples, Italy.” He has a few days before he departs on the SS Joliet, so he returns to N.Y.C., takes a girl (possibly a girlfriend), Rose, out to dinner and dancing, then returns to Baltimore to depart on the ship.

On June 12, “Tuesday. Went aboard by 9 to find everybody had signed Articles Monday. So I went up to the Commissioners to sign on, while there it came up that there was no carpenter. So I signed on as A.B. with the understanding that if no carpenter signed by 1 P.M. that I got the job.” No carpenter signs and after the ship departs Baltimore, there are many entries of the carpenter tasks that Trent does. “Mad a towel rack for 2nd mate and started to grease the windlass and booms.”; “worked all day just on the doors cleaning and greasing them. Had to fix No. 1 storm batten because it had no turnbuckle.”

On July 1st, the SS Juliet arrives in Augusta, Sicily. On arrival, “there were bum boats around the ship all morning. Trying to buy cigarettes for $9.00 a carton American $. Soap went for 3 to 4 cakes a 100 Lira. A lira is worth 1¢. I swapped some soap for some Cognac. Received orders around 1030 AM to go to Naples, Italy for further orders.” He goes to Sicily and then soon to Gallipoli.

For the next month or so, Trent writes the tasks and odd carpentry jobs that he did around the boat, commenting that the crew always seems to be breaking everything. He swims often, talks about buying, selling, and swapping cigarettes, soap, booze, etc. From Gallipoli the ship moves to Naples, and then to Marseilles, France. At the end of July he goes to the sick bay with a fever and infection. He mentions soon after that he “went ashore and saw a girl about a dog in a house,” possibly a euphemism for using a prostitute.

By early August, his entries are rather short, including one “August 4. Saturday. Same old shit.” On August 14, he has his first entry directly related to the ongoing war. “Received and talking over the news it does not seem possible that peace is around the corner. 7 PM. My birthday and peace at last.”

The SS Joliet goes from the mediterranean, to Balboa spain, and then sails for the Philippines. Trent mostly works, but when he goes ashore, he seems to be quite the drinker and partier. “Went ashore after breakfast and met Foskey and Cavelsky had some drinks. Tried to go back to the ship but Leon was dragging some Tape that held a bottle and the guard turned him back. So went to a hotel and took a room. Went to to sleep till 4 P.M. woke up and drank the bottle. Went out and had some dinner. Went back to the ship around 11 P.M.”; “Had a terrible hangover and a slight stuttering around 3PM.”; “I woke up laying out in the jungle so weak that I could not move, until 10 AM when two (?) gave me some water and helped me to there came, shoes + watch gone.”

He also seems to have a bit of a mean streak to him as there are a few entries in which he speaks of quarrels and insubordination with the mates on the ship. On October 3, the ship lands in Lingayen Bay, in the Philippines. From Lingayen Bay the Joliet moves onto Eniwetok. “October 25, Thursday. Arrived at Eniwetok at 4:30 PM. It is a big lagoon surrounded by small islands of 1/2 mile size in a circle of 22 miles a lot of them are submerged. Before the war the Atoll had 130 people now there are 300,000 army, navy. There were around 200 ships, tankers & freighters and some navy. The main island was covered with buildings and only a few palm trees and was very hot.” The Philippines, Trent notes, is hot, musty, and awful. “A rainy day and I have Ring worms where I sit down and don't seem able to get rid of them. Everybody seems to have them or the jock itch between her legs.”

The SS Joliet is not long in the Philippines though. After their orders are completed, they make their way back to the U.S. On November 29, the SS Joliet arrives back in Miami. It’s a good thing too. The day before, on November 28, Trent writes, “Looked in my locker and found that my wallet was stolen with 18 dollars in. Damn it I will be glad to get off this god damned ship.” From Miami, the ship goes back to N.Y.C. Trent parties hard on December 3rd and stays out all night. The last entry of the diary is December 4th, and just says, “still out.”

(Background - Launched as the SS Joliet Victory in 1944, Maritime Commission hull number MCV 114, a type VC2-S-AP3 Victory ship. She served in the Pacific War, participating in the landings on Leyte in late 1944. SS Joliet Victory Naval Armed Guard crews earned Battle Stars in World War II for war action in during the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf from 4 Jan. 1945 to 18 Jan. 1945. Also a second "Battle Stars" for the Leyte landings in the Battle of Leyte from 5 March 1945 to 13 March 1945. Joliet Victory was active in delivering support for the Battle of Iwo Jima from 19 February to 26 March 1945. In each battle she had to use her deck guns to defend against air attacks. Joliet Victory and the SS Columbia Victory had the dangerous job of supplying artillery ammunition for the Iwo Jima battle. The ship was laid up in the Hudson River as part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet on 1 July 1948, and was reactivated during the Korean War, serving from 27 July 1950 until 31 October 1953, when she was again laid up in the NDRF in the James River. She was acquired by the U.S. Navy on 8 February 1958, renamed Michelson, and converted to an Oceanographic Survey Ship (AGS) at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.)





Comments from an Original Crew Member of SS Joliet Victory


Here are comments posted by Arthur M. Stimson on the TAGS Ship Website Guest Log from July 6, 2009. His statement about the ship having been built at Richmond, Califirnia is not correct, as the SS Joliet Victory was constructed at Portland, Oregon. Perhaps some final fitting out was done at Richmond, as both yards were operated by Henry J. Kaiser.

I was one of the original crew members of the Joliet Victory now USNS Michelson. I am a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

I joined the USMMA in Jan 1945 and took basic training in an Mateo, CA. In June 1945 I was assigned to sea duty aboard the SS Joliet Victory, which was built in Richmond, CA. I went on the trial run before commissioning. We sailed out of San Francisco in July 1945 to Saipan, Mariana Islands to await the invasion of Japan.

In August the nuclear bomb was dropped on Japan and the war was over.

The Joliet Victory picked up military equipment in Guadacanal (52 jeeps and 2 PT boats). We took them to Yokohama and our crew celebrated Christmas 1945 in Tokyo. We were then sent to Calcutta, India to load 10,000 tons of 75mm artillery shells. We took the cargo to Charleston, SC in April 1946 and the ship went to New York.

I left the Joliet Victory to complete my training at the Academy at Kings Point, L.I, NY. I graduated in Dec 1947 and sailed on various merchant ships until 1951. I am now retired and live in Santa Barbara, CA.



Voyages of a Michelson Mate

In February 1964 when Michelson emerged from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to begin sea trials it took on a new merchant marine operating crew. Most of them were from Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) in San Francisco, since Michelson was scheduled to head there via Panama upon completion of its shake down cruise.

This was not to be. The ship sailed as far as San Juan, Puerto Rico, where somebody decided that more extensive testing of the newly installed electronics was needed before Michelson' could be deployed in the Pacific. Thus began the months of sea trials in the Bahamas while operating in and out of Florida ports until September, when the ship finally left for San Francisco.

One of the new MSTS crew was newly minted third mate Jim Cozine, a graduate of the California Maritime Academy. Recently, he sent along copies of his Certificate of Sea Service, or "seaman's book",  documenting his time aboard Michelson back in 1964. This kind of record  is used for licensing purposes and promotional advancement.





Michelson's master at the time was James E Sedam, who signed each entry in the seaman's book. Next in charge was chief mate (first officer) Page Secor.

There were two deck officers with third mate's licenses, Jim Cozine and Bruce Frolick, both of whom along with the second mate (the navigation officer) each stood four hour watches in the pilot house.

Jim recalls "
The one thing that sticks in my mind was the steaming back & forth like plowing a field for the survey work - the survey center would call up to the bridge and tell us to do a Williamson turn - and then after we did it  tell us how many feet off the old wake we were. We got really good at it."

Steaming back and forth over the "Tongue of the Ocean" near Andros, Bahamas, Michelson put newly installed survey gear to the test:
  • SINS Mk. 3 inertial navigator, an expensive dead reckoning system.
  • BRN-3 satellite receiver, a very early experimental predecessor to GPS.
  • SASS array sonar, the first of its kind, also an untested intensive care unit.
His service record shows that Jim Cozine served aboard Michelson from February 26 to October 7, when he left the ship after its arrival at San Francisco (Oakland). After nearly a year aboard an MSTS operated cargo ship he then sailed as second mate on USNS Pitcataqua, a gasoline tanker operating out of Sasebo.

Thanks to Jim for furnishing the scans of his sea service. This information solidifies Michelson's in port and sailing dates during the extensive 1964 sea trials.


Postcards from Ports of Call

A Picture Postcard Slideshow of USNS Michelson's Ports of Call During 1962-64
Click on Postcards to Visit Michelson's 1962-64 Ports of Call