Former Freighter to the Rescue

Lewis Luckenbach
Louis A. Milne
Louis A. Milne dressing station

December 31, 1918; the first steel hulled ship, the S.S. Cokesit was launched from the port, and a famous freighter was being constructed an ocean away.

Hundreds of ships have arrived and departed from the Port of Vancouver over the years, with most residents unaware of their activities, let alone their history, even when that history is unusual.

One vessel that created a public stir was the S.S. Lewis Luckenbach. The Luckenbach arrived in February 1937, and was the largest ship to call at Vancouver to that date. However, few are aware that it was later converted into the one of the largest hospital ships in the world.

The freighter’s story began in 1919 when it was built in Quincy, Massachusetts. It found its way to Vancouver in 1937, hauling various cargo including Clark County prunes. The ship also sailed to numerous other ports in its 25 years of civilian service before World War II.

In 1944 and 1945, the Luckenbach was converted to a hospital ship in Boston, Massachusetts, and renamed the Louis A. Milne. The ship, 527 feet long and weighing 10,000 tons, was equipped with 966 beds, with 300 more in reserve.

The Milne left Boston in March 1945 for Wales, and after voyages in Europe, the ship returned to New York. The Milne then traveled via the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean and was active as war troops were picked up by the various ships.

The vessel underwent extensive repairs from March to May 1945, and resumed other activity until it was taken from service and sold for scrap in 1958. The Milne (Lewis Luckenbach) was recorded as the 22nd U.S. Army hospital ship to be built.

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