The “Goose,” as she was affectionately known, was a familiar sight steaming in and out of Charleston harbor during the 1960’s. She began her service as the Victory ship SS Columbia during WWII and was transferred to the US Navy in 1951. As a U.S. Merchant Marine ship, she was very active during WWII in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Her Naval Armed Guard crews earned “Battle Stars” during the assault on Iwo Jima and for the Battle of Okinawa. During her later naval career, her crew not only faithfully fulfilled their normal duties, they rescued the men of a ship sinking three hundred miles off Bermuda and, on another occasion, saved the lives of workers incapacitated during overhaul at Dentyen’s shipyard.
In her prime, the role of the USS Betelgeuse was to support the Polaris mission in Charleston and was capable of transporting 23 missiles. In addition, she carried components, food, repair parts, clothing, fuel and anything required to keep the “Silent Service” at sea. Her record unblemished, in 1971, she was decommissioned.
Time at sea is marked every thirty minutes by the striking of the ship’s bell. To her crew, that familiar sound becomes as constant and comforting and reassuring as their mother’s voice. While the USS Betelgeuse in now retired, her bell continues its faithful call from the steeple of the Christ Episcopal Church in Milton, PA. In light of her service to the Nation, it is fitting that the bell rang on July 4, 1976, to celebrate our Bicentennial.