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As part of this new program, El Oriente delivered her full load of horses and mules— suffering no losses—at Bordeaux on 2 September.El Oriente made an additional roundtrip with 500 more animals in October, losing only three of her equine cargo during the voyage.In September 1944, she was chartered by the ICRC and sailed under the Swiss flag carrying food parcels to American prisoners of war held in German camps.Henri Dunant continued to sail under Swiss charter until October 1945, when she was returned to the United States and reverted to her former name.
The vessel sailed for the Morgan Line, the brand name of the Southern Pacific Steamship Company (a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad), which employed her to carry cargo and a limited number of passengers between New York; New Orleans, the eastern terminus of the Southern Pacific line; and Galveston, Texas.
After the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, it's unclear what role, if any, El Oriente played early on in the war.
Her sister ships El Occidente and El Sol were both requisitioned by the United States Shipping Board (USSB) on behalf of the United States Army, If El Oriente were used by the Army as an animal transport ship, she would have needed a refit which typically meant that any second- or third-class passenger accommodations had to be ripped out and replaced with ramps and stalls for the horses and mules carried. The next recorded activity of El Oriente was on 29 July, when she was acquired by the U. Navy and commissioned the same day with Lieutenant Commander William Delahanty, USNRF, in command.
To compound the lengthy wait (and, often, accompanying boredom) faced by cargo ships waiting to unload, the nearest German airfield was 35 miles (56 km) away—about 7 to 10 minutes flying time—which gave almost no advance warning of air raids.
German dive bombers would silently glide in below Soviet anti-aircraft fire, drop their payloads, and fly away.