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Passage On The U.S.N.S. GENERAL JOHN POPE, Part Two

Posted on Monday, May 17, 2010 by

Double wings past the double trestles of the Benecia Bridge as the POPE enters the Carquinez Strait. The Reserve Fleet is now off in the distance over her stern.

Despite the brilliant sun that morning, an icy wind whirled across the GENERAL JOHN POPE’s upper decks as she began to pick up momentum. The reserve fleet rafts were well off her starboard stern as her masts slid under the Benecia Bridge. It would have been great to just relax and watch the scenery pass by but I knew every moment on the ship called for something new to be documented.

The POPE's exceedingly tall funnels are part of what makes the P2-S2-R2 profile so distinguishable.

A pair of pears: the pear-shaped footprint of the twin chimneys are another pleasing, liner-like detail.

From the upper decks, it was hard not to take endless studies of those oversized, pear-shaped funnels. These almost whimsically proportioned fixtures and the ships’ sharply angled bows with that little upwards flair on the forepeak must have made quite a statement in the mid-1940s.

Energy and imagination were the only limits to the day's photographic opportunities.

When it seemed as though I had taken the best study of a particular feature, another shot tantalized. The combination of the ship’s liner-like features, the dramatic effects of rust and peeling paint and the spectacular lighting kept me on my toes.

A stack for each span: The Carquinez Bridge and the POPE.

And then the double span of the Carquinez Bridge neared. This would mark our passage through the Carquinez Strait into San Pablo Bay.

The U.S.N.S. GENERAL JOHN POPE off Vallejo. Photo and copyright Frank Cleope 2010.

Meanwhile, Frank Cleope was stationed at the Cal Maritime Campus in Vallejo getting the same scene at the same time but from a different perspective.

Wheelhouse, facing starboard.

1968 newspaper in the chart room.

The wheelhouse and chart room had not seen a live command for over forty years. Some equipment had been removed, presumably as spares for other ships, but much of the paperwork, including a newspaper from 1968, remained untouched by anything but dust.

Yellow tags and blueprints from another era.

In the chart room, there were original Federal Shipbuilding builder’s plans and keys to various lockers strewn about.

Last inspection: December 11, 1969.

Blank forms and fire extinguisher tags last marked 1969 were among the detritus of another era. The POPE had so many secrets left to tell and I could only scratch at their surface in the next couple hours.

Instructions for "inactivation": 1 March 1970.

One form even gave specific instructions on how the ship was to be prepared for decommissioning and layup in 1970.

Captains bedroom, facing forward.

Although disheveled and ransacked, I was surprised to find so much of the ship’s interior in good condition. Even the captain’s cabin had most of its furnishings and cabinetry intact.

An officer's cabin, facing port.

Officers’ accommodation was not unlike standard cabin class accommodation one would find on a liner of the same era, albeit with facilities down the hall.

Green hospital ward, facing forward/starboard.

Various hospital wards occupied a sizable portion of the POPE’s upper decks. Long since stripped of their bedding and equipment, they were studies in linoleum and enameled steel.

Green mess, facing forward from starboard.

Several mess halls and galleys occupied the midships portion of Promenade Deck.

Port promenade, facing aft.

Aside from the piping and duct work cluttering the promenades, they were typically linerlike. It was not hard to imagine the slightly more pastoral trappings of, say, the LEILANI.

Bunks and bedding.

POPE sinks!

Below promenade level, there were clusters of troop accommodation with rows of stacked cots and discarded bedding. Latrines, showers and common sink areas were interspersed between the dormitories.

Forward boiler room control panel.

Further into the ship were cargo holds, galleys and machinery spaces. I even managed to access to the forward engine and boiler rooms, which seemed to be in surprisingly good cosmetic condition.

Niemeth power.

Rust versus gray.

Lifeboat peelings.

When I emerged from the lower decks, the POPE was on a southbound course in San Pablo Bay, face to the sun. The tugs were driving her so quickly along, it was easy to imagine what it was like to be on the ship when she ruled her own element. The lighting conditions rewarded every photographic effort, which became all the more hurried as we passed under the Richmond Bridge. The skyline of San Francisco was within sight.

Facing the POPE.

Curves and crevices.

Troopship terrazzo or POPE-pourri?

Angel Island and Mount Tamalpias astern.

Angel Island next passed off our starboard side. I began to wonder if passersby on this brilliant day realized how extraordinary it was to see a ship like the POPE gliding through the busy Bay.

Bay Bridge over wing.

Portal to the POPE.

The Golden Gate, Alcatraz and our last bridge on this short journey, the double suspension span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay, came next.

Bow to BAE.

All too soon, we were within sight of BAE Systems, the POPE’s pit stop before embarking on her very final, loneliest-ever, journey to the breakers. At BAE, she would be drydocked so her keel and hull could be blasted free of all peeling lead-based paints and toxins. The massive outer dock, capable of handling ships much larger than the POPE, began to lower as my fellow linesmen were called back into action. Our sentimental journey was nearing its end.

Releasing the tug.

Linesmen in action.

Stern first.

The lines to the AMERICAN EAGLE and SILVER EAGLE had to be released so the tugs could reposition to maneuver the POPE stern first into the dock.

Casting the first line...

POPE to BAE...

Gradually, as the POPE made her way into the dock under Bob Brown’s guidance, feeder lines were cast to the longshoremen who then gradually moved them to bollards at the far end of the dock to secure the POPE precisely so that she would settle onto the drydock’s keel blocks.

A basketful of a view!

Another basket awaits...

Once the ship was secured, pumping water out of the dock began. It was time to gather our belongings and step into a metal basket that hoisted us from the stern onto dry land.

Twin towers over BAE.

As we crossed the yard to the rejoin the AMERICAN EAGLE, there was a chance to take a few hurried photos of the magnificently-proportioned POPE.

The POPE settles in.

Gray ship in a green wake.

By 1:30 PM, the AMERICAN EAGLE was maneuvering on a northeasterly course across the bow of the POPE. It was an amazing experience to be part of the “crew” and to experience some of the final moments of a ship that had a profound impact on many lives.

But the story was not quite over. Not yet, anyway…

End of “Passage On The POPE, Part Two” Sea Treks blog.  More text and images to follow…

Special thanks:  Bob Brown, Frank Cleope, Martin Cox, Vince Darwood, Mary Ferlin, Mark Goldberg, Erhard Koehler, Doug Satterblom

Click here for part one

Click here for part three

18 Responses to Passage On The U.S.N.S. GENERAL JOHN POPE, Part Two

  1. Jeanette Woods

    May 17, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    I so enjoyed your story and pictures regarding the USS General John Pope. My siblings and I have, with great interest through the years, kept track of the whereabouts on this ship. Our father, Frank Joseph Oclassen was an American citizen born in Manila, P.I. Before WWII he was an executive with Philippine Long Distance Company and also a member of the Board of Directors of RCA. During the latter part of the war, he was “invited” to join the guerilla forces under Captain Miller of the US Army and we did not see him again until the US Military liberated us.

    On August 1, 1945, my Mom, Grandmother, my 3 siblings and I, a 12 year old, (Dad came a few months later) boarded (along with many troops) the USS General John Pope bound for San Francisco. I have vivid memories of the bunks in the sleeping quarters. A favorite pasttime was watching the porpoises from the deck. The troops taught us a number of war time songs. We all celebrated VJ day, as well as my brother Don’s 7th birthday on August 14, 1945. The cook even baked him a birthday cake!

    On August 17th we docked in Seattle (I was told there was too much celebration in SF), the Red Cross met us at the gang plank, provided us with lodging, food and new clothing and a few days later we boarded a train to SF. I have the original Red Cross newsletter that included an article and photos of our arrival including one showing us walking down the gangplank.

    A few years ago my brother Frank (who lives in Phoenix) saw a newspaper article (with pictures) stating that the radios of this ship were in the Aquatic Maritime Museum in SF. Then, the Chronicle had a large spread with pictures showing this ship afloat with the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay. We flew over the moth ball fleet and took pictures of the Pope.

    So, on Tuesday, May 18th, Don and I plan to be in the vicinity of Pier 70 to say goodbye and shoot video & pictures of “our” ship. We, definitely, have nostalgic, warm feelings toward the USS General John Pope.

  2. Peter Knego

    May 18, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Jeanette, thank you so much for wonderful post. I am so happy you enjoyed reading about my romp on the POPE. It was a pleasure and honor to meet Don today and I look forward to seeing you both tomorrow between camera jugglings. Hoping for nice weather and a timely departure for this grand old liner. It is nice that some of her admirers will be on hand to say good bye and thanks for a job well done.

  3. Glenn

    May 18, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Great job! What a ship -you get to visit a time capsule as well,I want a sedan for $1,780

  4. Deborah DAmbrosi

    May 18, 2010 at 5:55 am

    Incredible photos Peter, it’s ashame; she could have been a cruise ship all this time. Very graceful and sleek lines. I enjoyed your photos.

  5. Jack Snyder

    May 18, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Great pictures of a still-beautiful ship! Even after all these years of neglect, the General Pope cuts a far more impressive figure than any recent new-build. It’s a shame there isn’t some way to save at least one of these remaining P2’s. Some of the photos took me back to my first voyage, on the President Roosevelt…which still had her P2 profile, albeit with the modernized stacks. How fortunate you were, Peter, to have been able to document her move, and how lucky we are to see the record of your trip.

  6. David Walker

    May 18, 2010 at 6:31 am

    A superb job as usual documenting the passage of history.

  7. Mage B

    May 18, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    This is just an amazing journey that you are documenting….and creating a work of art with your images. We will be up there the 28th and 29th, is there anything we can do or go to?

  8. David Walker

    May 19, 2010 at 4:13 am

    Some webcam grabs I got of her as she was towed from SF on May 18th:


  9. Byron Huart

    May 19, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Amazing documentation of this vintage ship’s final voyage ,
    great work Peter.

    It’s amazing how you discovered all those forgotten papers , plans & tags found inside the ship untouched by the sands of time.

    Amazing what treasures lie inside these forgotten yet amazing relics of this nations maritime history.

    Sad that she could not be saved & preserved ,
    I only hope that the SS United States survives her ordeal of neglect in Philly.

    I was dazzled by the pics of her twin funnels & her beautifully crafted superstructure , a vintage ocean liner in disguise.

    Keep up the amazing stories & logs of these forgotten liners peter ,
    you should open a museum in California as a tribute to all these amazing finds , blueprints & irreplaceable artifacts from these maritime marvels you’ve discovered for the world to see.

    I’d visit it if such a neat place existed here in NY.

    Keep up the good work ,

    Byron Huart
    Maritime historian & photographer.
    New York district

  10. Mario E. Villamarzo

    May 31, 2010 at 10:52 am

    I was a troop on the USNS General Pope. We cast off from the Oakland Army Terminal on January 16+/-, 1966 for Vietnam. We made a stop in Hawaii for less than a day and on our way to Nam we were diverted to Guam where we went into the harbor to drop off a supposedly ill GI. Without more than dropping off the GI we were spun around back to the Pacific. We arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in Nam and never docked but we unloaded some troops and cargo. Later in the evening we cast of for Vung Tau. The trip on the Pope was an experience never to forget. I pulled guard duty for 23 days in the galley, on the bow and the fantail. My duty was to keep the GIs out of the crews quarters and from the bow and fantail. Great ship and loads of memories. Thanks for what you have provided us with.

  11. Greg Nelson

    July 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Great work. I am finally posting my photos from my Vietnam tour on the Internet. I was missing any pics of the bunk area. Found one here. I must have been among the last to make the trip to Vietnam. Left May 1, 1968 from Oakland, stopped 18 days later in Subic Bay long enough to get drunk, and then ended up in Vung Tau on May 21.

  12. Christopher Nelson

    July 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

    What an amazing journey. You’re very luck to have participated in this next to last voyage of the pope. I’m very envious. I work across the street from the dry docks and always wander down to see the latest ghost ship being prepared for the final voyage to the scrap yard. Thank you for sharing these wonderful images and your story.

  13. Michael

    December 6, 2010 at 4:15 am

    Thanks so much for this, my dad served aboard troopships in the early/mid 50s and, while there are many exterior photos on the internet, after hearing his stories I always wanted to know what they looked like on the inside. If I am not mistaken these are pretty much the only interior photos of a US troopship on the web. Just a pity one of these ships couldn’t be saved and preserved, to show people the important role they played in our history. At least we’ll have your photos.

  14. S.L. Burney

    February 16, 2011 at 7:35 am

    The Pope brought me and 1600 other Marines home from RVN during August of 1967. Good food, quiet, restful nights and showers were a blessing. Hate to see the old lady go. Wish I had a momento.

  15. charles emerson

    May 8, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I am looking for the history of the USNS GENERAL JOHN POPE late july and august 1951-what port it left in korea or japan? with korean war troops going home
    Thank You,Charles Emerson

  16. Robert B. Wheeler

    September 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    In March/April 1967 my unit, the 589th Engineers was taken to Qui Nhon via the USNS General John Pope along with our sister ship for the cruise the USNS Geiger. We left Fort Hood on a troop train and boarded the ship after an all night stand in formation in a ship yard terminal. The crossing of the Pacific cannot be told in a few words. Seeing the pictures was appreciated. I had the lowest bunk in the belly of the ship as your pictures portrayed. We spent time circling outside of Hawaii as the Geiger had engine problems. We spent a half to 3/4 of a day at Subic Bay before the final voyage to Viet Nam. Ironically, my father in law came back from Japan after the end of WWII on the Pope. Our pictures were shared with each other of the ship which made entry into the family in the Gary Indiana area during the 1968 Democtratic Convention became possible. My assignment when I returned from Vietnam was a missle base outside of Gary, Indiana.

  17. Ron Felix

    December 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I sailed on the John Pope to Vung Tau RVN January 1967 with the 2nd Brigade 9th INF Division. I was on guard duty when the soldier went over the side. A sad day. The weather was beautiful and the seas calm

  18. Bill Fehr

    February 9, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    On December 5th, 1967 I departed Okinawa with other fellow Marines for the trip to San Diego where I was discharged to further my education. I remember the trip vividly to this day, sleeping on the fourth high bunk and barely surviving a typhoon in route. Everyone was puking in the garbage cans. We stopped at Wake briefly to off load a Marine who was rumored to have taken his life. Arrived at San Diego on December 19th and became a civilian on December 21st. I have passed over the Suisin bridge many times in later years not knowing the USS Pope was one of the mothballed ships down below. Thanks for the pictures and dialog about this ship.

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