On September 27, 1941, the United States launched the first of 2,700 Liberty class ships. Prefabricated parts came from all over the United States to shipbuilding companies for welding. Assembly lines made the parts in four to six months and the shipyards welded the pieces together in four and a half days. Each liberty ship measured 441 feet tall and 56 feet at its beam or widest point with a top speed of eleven knots. They carried forty crewmen and twenty armed guardsmen on average and hauled 9,146 tons worth of military vehicles and supplies. Each ship cost under $2,000,000 and the United States launched 140 Libertys a month by 1943. The Liberty ships became America’s workhorses during World War II.
The Irish Bend plant of Todd-Houston Shipbuilding Company completed the S.S. Stephen F. Austin in August 1942. After sailing to Port Bolivar on its shakedown cruise that tested the Austin’s performance, the ship made its maiden voyage to the Persian Gulf. On April 20, 1944, the ship earned its first and only battle star while sailing in Convoy UGS-38 en route for the Mediterranean. Twenty-three German bombers attacked the ships at sundown but the Stephen F. Austin only took minor torpedo damage. Once repaired, the ship continued service until the end of the war.
After World War II, the Stephen F. Austin served as a commerce ship after a peacetime restoration until 1948. Overall, the ship made thirteen voyages in six years of service. Once retired, the ship returned to Texas as part of the Beaumont Reserve Fleet until 1967 when a Louisiana scrap company purchased it. Now only the ship’s nameplate remains. It is kept as a part of the collections at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches Texas.