William Tracy Alder

“It was just orchestrated chaos.”

My name is William Tracy Alder. I guess what we’re talking about here is, I’m just going to tell you a story about my grandfather who worked at Bethlehem Steel, actually the Fairfield shipyards during World War 2. He was a welder and a fabricator and he fabricated parts and assembled the ships and he was a very good welder. I know he was a coal miner. He started as a coal miner and he was a union organizer.

Fairfield was a shipyard in Baltimore that was adjacent to the Bethlehem Steel Mill and it was owned by the same company and Fairfield is where they built ships up until I think the fifties. Bethlehem Steel was, it was a huge, it was a city inside of a city during World War II. There was approximately fifty-five thousand people that were working there at the time and from everything that Grandpa told me it was just orchestrated chaos. A whole bunch of men in the hull of the ship welding it, and he said they were just piled on top of one another to weld. He said every day somebody would get welding flash. Welding flash is just from the exposure, not having a filter to filter the UV rays from the welding. And so with these primitive-type shields that they were using, its just like a little square piece of press board or whatever, with a lens, and you had a stick and you’d hold it and you’d have to weld holding this and keep it in front of you while you’re welding. When a welder would take a break he’d remove his shield, his makeshift shield, well, somebody else is still welding, so everyday, he said somebody would come home with welding flash.

FDR was asking for a set number of ships to be built a month, to supply these supply routes because these Liberty ships, they hauled supplies to the war. I remember him telling me about the production levels and with veracity you can look at it, its true, the number of them that were produced, I think it there and California, is unparalleled to this day, I mean, even in the modern shipbuilding facilities. I do know he was very very proud of what the men and women did, you know, that was an accomplishment. (Edited by Kristen Anchor)