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SS Cotton State

For actions on February 7, 1965
Gallant Ship Award Citation:

During the early afternoon of February 7, 1965, the COTTON STATE received an SOS from the Greek Ship GRAMMATIKI, immediately altered course and raced to intercept the distressed vessel. Late that night in heavy seas rendezvous was made with foundering GRAMMATIKI. The COTTON STATE stood by the stricken vessel throughout the night and maintained radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard and other vessels in the vicinity. Early the following morning the decision was made to abandon the GRAMMATIKI. The COTTON STATE launched a lifeboat and, although heavy swells made the lifeboat operation extremely difficult, the boat was handled with such skillful seamanship that in less than two hours all the survivors were safely transferred to the COTTON STATE.

The courage, resourcefulness, expert seamanship, and teamwork of her Master, officers and crew in successfully effecting the rescue of the entire twenty-nine crew members from a sinking ship under extremely hazardous circumstances have caused the name of the COTTON STATE to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.

SS Cotton State, originally named Spartanburg Victory, was a Victory-type break-bulk cargo ship built for the U.S. Maritime Commission by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Baltimore, Maryland. Although intended to support the U.S. war effort during World War II, the ship was delivered 15 days after the Japanese officially surrendered onboard USS Missouri (BB-63) on September 2, 1945.

Eastern Steamship Lines operated the vessel for its first five months under a General Agency Agreement with the Maritime Commission. The ship operated both commercially and for the government before the Commission laid it up at its Beaumont Reserve Fleet on October 23, 1948. On February 23, 1950, Bloomfield Steamship Company purchased the ship and renamed it Neva West. Seven years later, States Marine Corporation bought the vessel and renamed it Cotton State.

On the afternoon of February 7, 1965, while enroute from Pusan, South Korea to Los Angeles, California, Cotton State received six distress calls from the Greek-flagged cargo ship SS Grammatiki, which was steaming from Tacoma, Washington to Taiwan with a load of scrap metal. Coincidentally, Grammatiki was a Liberty-type ship originally built for the Maritime Commission in 1944 as George A. Marr. Cotton State’s master, Captain Louis A. Thompson, immediately changed course and steamed 81 miles to reach the foundering ship. The next morning, when it was clear Grammatiki would sink, Captain Thompson launched a lifeboat with Chief Officer Robert A. Pease leading a six-man crew. Despite heavy seas Cotton State’s crew rescued all 29 crewmen in less than two hours with no injuries.

In addition to receiving the Gallant Ship Award, Captain Thompson and the seven crewmen that manned the lifeboat received the Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal. The Radio Officer Theodore Noldeke also received a Letter of Commendation for remaining at his station throughout the entire course of the rescue.

Cotton State continued to sail for States Marine Corporation throughout the remainder of the decade. In 1966 the vessel operated under a time charter to the Military Sea Transportation Service (predecessor to Military Sealift Command), transporting military supplies to Vietnam. In 1970 States Marine Corporation sold the ship to a Taiwanese company that scrapped it in May of that year.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2018