What follows is a story that the U.S. Maritime Administration has called the “greatest rescue operation by a single ship in history.” The rescue operation, which began on December 23, 1950, ended on Christmas Day, 1950. The man in charge was Captain Leonard LaRue.
Leonard LaRue was born in Philadelphia on January 14, 1914. He trained at the Pennsylvania State Nautical School, receiving his certification in 1934. After completing his training, LaRue began his career working on ships coming and going from New York. He then joined the Moore-McCormack Line in 1942 as a second mate.
In 1944 he was promoted to Master and given his own ship. He then became a U.S. Merchant Marine Captain in command of a small freighter called the S.S. Meredith Victory. When the Korean War began, he was dispatched to bring supplies to American soldiers sent to Korea.
Dispatched to Korea
There, fighting howling winter winds, with the constant threat of enemy gunfire, Captain LaRue found himself navigating the perils of war and sea. Bill Gilbert describes the situation, saying,
“Captain Leonard LaRue stood on the deck of his five-year-old, ten-thousand-ton freighter, the SS Meredith Victory, in the harbor at Hungnam, North Korea, 135 miles into enemy territory, in the sixth month of the Korean War, Christmastime 1950. “I trained my binoculars on the shore and saw a pitiable scene,” he later wrote. “Korean refugees thronged the docks. With them was everything they could wheel, carry, or drag. Beside them, like frightened chicks, were their children.”Ship of Miracles-14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage
Captain LaRue’s ship was one of the last ships in the Port of Hungnam, where 14,000 refugees remained. The S.S. Meredith Victory was designed to hold 47 people, consisting of officers and crew. Captain LaRue ordered all cargo, weapons, and anything that occupied space to be removed from the ship. When they finished stripping the small ship of everything movable, Captain LaRue invited the refugees to board. It had taken a full day to unload the ship and bring the refugees on board. The ship set sail on December 23, 1950.
Packed together like sardines
The refuges, men, women, and children, were packed together “like sardines.” Somehow, someway, 14,000 people were crammed on board LaRue’s ship. However, there was no food, no water, no heat, and no sanitary facilities available. The only weapon on board was Captain LaRue’s own pistol. LaRue must have been horrified when he heard that the refugees, trying to stay warm, were building fires on top of the kerosene drums in the hold. No wonder he was quoted as saying, “I believe that God sailed with us during those three days.”
The ship docked at Pusan on Christmas Eve. Captain LaRue was told there was no room for anyone there. He managed to leave the injured and five women with their newborn babies. He also managed to get some blankets and water. After that, they set sail for Kojo-Do, an island 50 miles southwest. LaRue, his crew, and the ship of refugees safely arrived on Christmas Day.
Captain LaRue becomes Brother Marinus
LaRue’s experience as captain of the S.S. Meredith Victory was the driving force in his decision to enter a Benedictine monastery. Years later, LaRue recalled the rescue, saying,
“I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul,” he said. “The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God’s own hand was at the helm of my ship.”Ship of Miracles-14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage
Captain Leonard LaRue joined St. Paul’s Abbey, the Benedictine monastery in Newton, New Jersey, in 1954, taking the name Brother Marinus. Marinus is a Latin word meaning “of the sea.” He faithfully worked and prayed at the monastery until his death in 2001.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., opened Brother Marinus’ cause for canonization on March 25, 2019. Recently, the US bishops voted in the June 2021 assembly to advance the cause for the canonization of Brother Marinus.
Servant of God, Marinus LaRue, pray for us!