The New Year’s event most heavily attended by Berkeley residents on Dec. 31, 1944 attracted almost one-tenth of the city’s population — and but they weren’t in Berkeley, they were in Richmond.
A crowd estimated at more than 10,000 people were at Kaiser Shipyard No. 1 for the launching of the SS Berkeley Victory, a victory ship named in the city’s honor and the 639th ship launched from the Kaiser yards at that point.
Admission tickets to Shipyard No. 1 for the ceremony were distributed widely around Berkeley and attracted local dignitaries and thousands of residents.
“God speed the Berkeley Victory and bring her home to safety!” said featured speaker Sam B. Hume, who also invoked the famous quote of George Berkeley, “Westward the course of empire takes its way.”
Mrs. Fitch Robertson, described as the first lady of Berkeley, handled the christening duties, and the A Cappella Choir from Berkeley High School performed “Smooth Sailing,” the official launching song of the Kaiser yards.
The ship was built in 42 days and in the build up to the big event, the Gazette noted that a number of Berkeley residents were involved in its construction.
We had no luck finding out what ultimately happened to the ship after the launch, though a colleague tells us that it was anchored in the Mothball Fleet.
What we did find was an interesting item in the Oakland Tribune, which noted that the ship’s chief officer was Wilson Wong, an Oakland resident and former Cal student. The paper pointed out in early 1945 that Wong was “one of the few, if not the only Chinese to attain such a high rating.”