SS West Grama was built as a steam-powered cargo ship in 1918 for the , a predecessor of the . She was part of the West boats, a series of steel-hulled cargo ships built on the West Coast of the United States for the World War I war effort, and was the 9th ship built at Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company in San Pedro, California. She was commissioned into the of the United States Navy as USS West Grama (ID-3794) in January 1919. She became the first American-flagged vessel to enter Bulgarian waters when she delivered a load of wheat flour to Varna in early 1919. After her one overseas trip for the Navy, she was decommissioned in June 1919 and returned to the .
SS West Grama sailed between Genoa and New York early in her civilian career. In 1927, West Grama was outfitted with a diesel engine that replaced her original steam engine as part of a pilot program by the . After her conversion, she sailed primarily between East Coast ports and South America. By the late 1930s, she had been laid up, but was reactivated for merchant service during World War II. She sailed primarily in the Caribbean until March 1944 when she sailed from the United States for the final time. She was scuttled in June as part of the "gooseberry" breakwater off Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion, earning a battle star in the process.
West Grama was , and was long (between perpendiculars) and abeam. She had a steel hull that displaced 12,225 t with a mean draft of . Her hold was deep and she had a deadweight tonnage of . West Gramas power plant, as built, consisted of a single triple-expansion steam engine driving a single screw propeller which moved the ship at up to .
On 25 February, a half-submerged ship was spotted some east-northeast of Nassau, Bahamas. Upon investigation, it was determined to be the wreck of the American schooner Nettie Shipman, but, with no signs of life aboard the hulk, West Grama continued on to Virginia, where she arrived three days later.
After general repairs and fuel replenishment, West Grama got underway for the Mediterranean on 13 March. Touching at Gibraltar, she next headed to Constantinople, Turkey, to unload part of her cargo, and then proceeded into the Black Sea. She arrived at Varna, Bulgaria, to unload the remainder of the flour, and, in the process, became the first American-flagged vessel to enter Bulgarian waters. After departure from Varna, West Grama returned to the United States via Gibraltar. She carried a mixed load of 13 depth charges and of general cargo. In early June, during her return voyage, West Grama was disabled by some unspecified problem while west of Bermuda. The U.S. Navy cargo ship , en route from New Orleans to Cardiff, assisted West Grama, and the Navy dispatched the icebreaker from Boston to aid West Grama. It's not known what assistance was provided or if West Grama was even able to proceed on her own, but she arrived at Norfolk on 11 June. Five days later, West Grama was decommissioned and returned to the for civilian service.
After her return to the , West Grama sailed on a Genoa – Gibraltar – New York route through 1920. In April 1920, West Grama carried some 52 passengers from Genoa and Gibraltar to New York. There is no mention in sources of the ship's activities over the next seven years, but in June 1927, the Los Angeles Times reported that West Grama had been selected for a $400,000 conversion from steam-power to diesel-power. By late November, the conversion, undergoing at the Fore River Shipyard near Boston, was nearly complete. The new engine was a McIntosh & Seymour double-acting diesel, the first of its type built in America. On 8 December, during successful sea trials of West Gramas new diesel power plant, a malfunction in a steam boiler used to heat the crew quarters caused minor damage to the ship.
Allocated to the American Republics Line for service to the east coast of South America, West Grama sailed for Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she had arrived by late January 1928, and back to New York by late March. In October 1929, West Grama was reportedly assigned to the new Pacific–South Africa Line by the , an around-the-world venture under the management of J. J. Moore & Company. The Pacific–South Africa Line—the world's only all-diesel around-the-world service, as described by the Los Angeles Times—sailed from Los Angeles to South Africa via the Straits of Magellan, across the Indian Ocean to Japan and China, across the Pacific to San Francisco, and back to Los Angeles. It's not clear how long, if at all, West Grama sailed for this line. In July 1929, a report in The New York Times shows that West Grama was still in South American service, sailing to Santos, Brazil.
Sources are not clear as to all of West Gramas movements over the next years. Hints can be gleaned from contemporary news accounts. In March 1930, the Los Angeles Times reported that West Grama was en route from Balboa to San Francisco. The New York Times reported West Gramas arrival from Portland, Oregon in September, her departure for Fremantle, Western Australia in October 1933, and her arrival from Baltimore in March the following year. After these mentions, West Grama disappears from contemporary news accounts, and by 1939, West Grama had been laid up in a reserve fleet.
West Grama departed Boston on 25 March and arrived at Halifax two days later. Departing from that port on 29 March, she sailed in Convoy SC-156 and arrived at Barry Roads on 13 April, and by 7 May, she had arrived at Methil. West Gramas whereabouts and movements through early June are not recorded. Other ships that had been selected as blockships assembled in a "corncob" fleet at Oban, though it's not clear if West Grama did or not. The "corncob" fleet was the group of ships intended to be sunk to form the "gooseberries", shallow-water artificial harbors for landing craft. Poropat reports that once the ship crews were told of their mission while anchored at Oban, they were not permitted to leave the ships.
Three "corncob" convoys, consisting of what one author called the "dregs of the North Atlantic shipping pool", departed from Poole and reached the Normandy beachhead the next day, shortly after the D-Day landings. Poropat reports that the corncob ships traveled under cover of darkness and, stripped of all unnecessary equipment, carried no radios, having only a signal lamp (with a spare bulb) for communication. Once at the designated location, the ships were put into position and scuttled over the next days, under heavy German artillery fire. Naval Armed Guardsmen manned the guns on all the gooseberry ships to protect against frequent German air attacks All the while, harbor pilots—about half of the New York Bar Pilots Association, according to one source—carefully positioned the ships. West Grama was sunk off Omaha Beach on 8 June, though she continued to serve as an antiaircraft platform manned by Navy gun crews. On 9 June, West Gramas gunners fired 19 times and were credited with assisting in the downing one German airplane; only one of West Gramas Navy gunners was wounded during the attack. On 14 June, West Grama escaped serious damage when a bomb landed near the ship. By the time her Naval Armed Guardsmen were replaced by Army crews on 18 June, they had received credit for a second assist, and had been awarded a battle star for their participation in the Normandy Landings.