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A mission of good will

Boaters who grew up in the late 1950s and early ’60s might remember the ship pictured here from their Weekly Reader, or similar elementary school newsletter. It’s the hospital ship Hope, which traveled the globe dispensing medical care and training — and a lot of good will — to a litany of nations.

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Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) was established in 1958 by Dr. William Walsh, a World War II medical officer. Walsh had witnessed the poor health conditions prevalent in the post-war South Pacific, particularly among young children. The concerned physician persuaded President Eisenhower to donate a former Navy hospital ship to his young organization. The chosen vessel — the USS Consolation (AH-15), a 500-foot ship with a proud record of service — was up to the task.

Built by Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., in Chester, Pa., the 800-bed ship was launched in 1944 and quickly sent to the Pacific, where she took on more than 1,000 POWs. The ship served in the Korean conflict, earning 10 battle stars, and later took part in “Operation Passage to Freedom,” transporting civilians and French troops from North Vietnam to South Vietnam after the country was partitioned. She was decommissioned in 1955.

Walsh led an effort to raise $750,000 to refit the ship, and the conversion to civilian use took two years. She was relaunched in 1960 as the SS Hope, manned by American doctors, nurses and technologists. On Sept. 22, she set out from San Francisco, bound for Indonesia, on her maiden voyage. During the next 14 years, she traveled to Vietnam, Peru, Ecuador, Guinea, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Tunisia, Jamaica and Brazil. She was retired in 1974 after logging more than 250,000 miles.

Today, Project HOPE works in partnership with the Navy, sending medical volunteers around the globe to provide health care and education.

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.