The first Vega retained the she carried when she was acquired; the second and third ships of the lineage were named for the star of the first magnitude in the constellation Lyra used frequently by navigators.
(AK-17: displacement 11,320; length 401'1"; beam 54'0"; draft 24'5" (loaded summer); speed 11.5 knots; complement 122; class Capella)
Lebanon, a single-screw, steel-hulled freighter built in 1919 under a United States Shipping Board contract at Hog Island, Pa., by the American International Shipbuilding Co., was acquired by the Navy on 2 December 1921. Renamed Vega and classified as a cargo ship, AK-17, she fitted out for Navy service and commissioned at the Boston [Mass.] Navy Yard on 21 December 1921, Lt. William H. Newman, USNRF, in command.
Assigned to the Naval Transportation Service, Vega served the pre-World War II Navy from Atlantic to Pacific on cargo runs which included calls at both east and west coast ports, as well as visits to the Far East and the Caribbean. During the first three years of her naval service, Vega completed six round-trip voyages from San Francisco to Asiatic waters before returning home in October 1924. In successive summers from 1925 to 1928, the cargo vessel operated between Seattle, Wash., and Alaskan ports, carrying supplies and stores to naval radio stations at St. Paul and Dutch Harbor. In addition, Vega and sister ship Sirius (AK-15) carried general freight, heavy guns, and ordnance parts in support of USMC peace-keeping activities in Nicaragua. Among Vega's cruises were voyages in 1928 carrying supplies for the Bureau of Fisheries, the Commerce Department, to seal rookeries on Pribilof and other Alaskan islands. She returned with seal skins garnered during supervised killings.
Vega operated in unglamorous but vital logistical duties into the 1930's as the tide of war crept closer toward the United States. On 6 December 1941, Vega arrived at Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, her holds laden with ammunition for the Naval Ammunition Depot, Pearl Harbor, and a U.S. Army derrick barge in tow-moored to Pier 31 and commenced unloading her cargo one hour into the mid watch on 7 December. When Japanese planes swept over Oahu, Vega went to general quarters as civilian stevedores continued the arduous job of unloading her dangerous cargo. Since the Japanese were after bigger game, the Hog Islander and her vital cargo emerged from the attack unscathed.
Vega remained in the Hawaiian Islands until 3 January 1942, when she got underway with a cargo of civilian automobiles and pineapples. She arrived at San Francisco 10 days later and soon entered Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., for refit. She returned to Hawaiian waters on 10 March. After detaching her tow, Progress (AMc-98), and unloading construction gear, the cargo vessel loaded another cargo of pineapples and civilian dependents' gear and got underway for the west coast on 20 March.
Transferred to the operational control of Commandant Thirteenth Naval District, Vega departed San Francisco for Tacoma, Wash., on 9 April. From then until 9 January 1944, the cargo vessel operated out of Tacoma and Seattle, carrying vital construction materials and supporting U.S. operations against the Japanese invaders in the Aleutian Islands. On one run, Vega delivered a cargo of naval stores and ammunition, as well as some 20,millimeter antiaircraft guns for the garrison at Dutch Harbor, only a few days before the devastating bombardment of that base by a Japanese cruiser task force in early June 1942.
The ship returned to San Francisco early in 1944 and was soon assigned to Service Squadron (ServRon) 8. During the next year, the cargo vessel supported three major amphibious operations, in the Marianas, the Western Carolines, and at Okinawa, carrying vital supplies and construction materials to assist the famed "Seabees" in establishing the advance bases so necessary to the smooth operation of the Fleet. She picked up her first load of pontoon barges at Pearl Harbor and got underway for the Gilbert Islands on 31 January. However, her orders were changed en route, sending her to the Marshalls. She arrived at Kwajalein atoll on 6 March, unloaded the barges, and returned to San Francisco for another load. Departing San Francisco on 18 May, she unloaded at Guam before steaming back to the Russells to pick up another load at Banika Island.
On 23 October 1944, Vega commenced loading empty brass powder cans at Ulithi in the Carolines, while her embarked "Seabee" battalion, the 1044th, assembled self-propelled barges brought out in the U.S. freighterClaremont Victory (Isthmian Steamship Co.). Subsequently, the cargo vessel sailed for Eniwetok where she took on board another load of brass casings, heading for Pearl Harbor on 30 December, en route to the west coast. She made port at San Francisco, a familiar terminus for the ship, on 18 January 1945. Vega departed the west coast with another load of barges on 9 March bound, via Eniwetok and Ulithi, for the Ryukyus. Dropping anchor off Okinawa on 13 June, Vega began assembling pontoon barges; and, three days later, during a Japanese air raid on her anchorage, the cargo vessel downed a twin-engined bomber before its pilot could drop his bombs.
Departing Okinawa on 6 July 1945, the cargo vessel sailed, via Pearl Harbor, for the west coast and arrived at San Pedro soon thereafter. Offloading empty brass picked up at Pearl Harbor, Vega transported a cargo of dry stores to San Francisco before proceeding on to Oakland, Calif., where she was decommissioned on 15 January 1946.
Stricken from the Navy List on 12 March 1946, the well-traveled cargo ship entered the Maritime Commission's Reserve Fleet (Tier S4) , at Suisun Bay, Calif., on 30 June 1946 and was turned over to the Maritime Commission on 1 July. The veteran cargo vessel was sold on 6 August 1946 to the National Metals & Steel Corp. for scrap. She was removed from the Reserve Fleet by the Kaiser Co., agents of the purchaser, National Metals & Steel Corp., on 2 January 1947.
Vega received four battle stars for her World War II service.
Robert J. Cressman
Updated, 6 April 2022