Throwback Thursday: Ship Breaking at the Port of Brownsville

Throwback Thursday

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — For the past 50 years, as Rio Grande Valley residents traveled to Port Isabel and South Padre Island, they could look to one side and see a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier or a destroyer, destroyer escorts, and missile firing vessels anchored at the Port of Brownsville. These vessels came from a fleet that was in storage by the U.S. Navy after World War II. The ship breaking operation at the Port of Brownsville that took in those military vessels was not the first encounter the port had with the U.S. military.

At the beginning of the American involvement in World War II in 1941, there was a huge operation in the manufacturing of destroyer escorts, mine sweepers, and barges for the U.S. military. A man by the name of Richard Jaross came to this part of the country and saw the possibilities. Known to some as the father of modern ship breaking, or dismantling, Richard Jaross noticed the abundance of vacant land and saw great potential. He went back to the powers that be and asked if his organization could do a ship breaking operation in south Texas. It was agreed upon and Jaross now had his ship breaking operation. It was the largest in the country at that time, along with fiver other independent operators going on simultaneously.

The dismantling of ships in south Texas made sense because the labor was abundant, it was quality, had a direct rail to Monterrey which was a direct customer for all of the salvage that came out of the port. The classic vessels that had been seen by outsiders from the highway and in the interior of the port would have been aircraft carriers on the level of the USS Saratoga and the USS Des Moines and other types of naval support vessels. Along with military vessels, commercial merchant marine ships were ready to be broken. One of the most notable was the hospital ship, the USS Hope.

Jaross’ business has expanded beyond the ship breaking function into ship modification, ship fabrication, and auto salvage operation. One of the key points was that Jaross went to his people in the northwest and said the workers here are first class. In his decades involvement in ship breaking, Richard Jaross has been involved with over 500 vessels. Now, the current level of U.S. military vessels on the books is 480, so he has had involvement with vessels at present than the U.S. military presently has.

The mind of a visionary to bring this type of industry to Brownsville, to support those many people over the years, and those families with a solid base for commerce in the port of Brownsville is commendable.

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