Courtesy of Chester Kishel, Jr.

Courtesy of Chester Kishel, Jr.

My father was a diplomat with the U.S. State Department, so we traveled constantly throughout the 1960s. We liked taking ships because we could bring our wild and crazy Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. How is that for luggage?

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Courtesy of Kathleen Perry.

Courtesy of Kathleen Perry.

One day they told us it was too windy to go out onto the Promenade deck, and Daddy decided to take me out to see how windy it was. The wind picked me up and threw me into the railing – at first, the ship’s doctor thought the impact had broken my arms, but it turned out my elbows had just locked. I remember mostly feeling glad I’d been blown into the railing and not all the way overboard!

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The SS United States in Southampton Harbor.

I sailed to Southampton on the Big U in 1963 three days after the then Hapag-Lloyd ship “Bremen” did, and in a day and a half, we were passing her at sea. The captains of each ship thoroughly enjoyed the moment. You could truly feel her immense speed under your feet – she was the epitome of the nation at that time, our very best at peace.

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The SS United States drydocked at Newport News

The SS United States drydocked at Newport News.

I remember standing on the banks of the James River in Newport News and seeing the SS United States all lit up from bow to stern. I’ll never forget it. My father, Channing Cole, helped to build this great ship.

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The Abbondandolo family during their 1953 voyage from NYC to Germany. Courtesy of Inga Bowyer (née Abbondandolo).

My father was a US Air Force Sergeant assigned to Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico. Family housing on the base was not yet ready for us, so we were headed to Germany to stay with my grandparents while our home in Puerto Rico was built.

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Photo of Sean Connery courtesy of Mario De Biasi/Mondadori Portfolio, image of the first class ballroom courtesy of Cruising the Past.

Photo of Sean Connery courtesy of Mario De Biasi/Mondadori Portfolio, image of the first class ballroom courtesy of Cruising the Past.

The SS United States was a major part of my childhood and adolescence. Starting in 1953, we sailed back and forth across the Atlantic for family vacations. Later, my brother and I commuted to and from boarding school by ourselves each fall and summer.

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The SS United States departing for Europe. Photo courtesy of Louise Kleber.

The SS United States departing for Europe. Courtesy of Louise Kleber.

We sailed out of New York Harbor while the Verrazano-Narrows bridge was still under construction. The workers waved to us as we passed underneath, and we waved back. I was bound for Southampton — the first leg of my trip to India on a Fullbright fellowship. I shared a cabin with two other Fullbright scholars also bound for India, and a new member of the diplomatic corps.

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Mary Anne Chamberlain (right) poses with a friend she made aboard the ship (left), a young girl from Germany. Although neither girl could speak the other’s native language, they quickly formed a friendship. “Dad knew enough German to communicate with her parents, and her father knew enough English,” Chamberlain recollects. “Perfect!” Photo courtesy of Mary Anne Chamberlain.

Mary Anne Chamberlain (right) poses with a friend she made aboard the ship (left), a young girl from Germany. Although neither girl could speak the other’s native language, they quickly formed a friendship. “Dad knew enough German to communicate with her parents, and her father knew enough English,” Chamberlain recollects. “Perfect!” Photo courtesy of Mary Anne Chamberlain.

I remember thinking it was funny being in a pool when there was a huge ocean right there, and sneaking into first class with my brother to explore the front half of the ship. A very nice steward caught us and gently brought us back to our parents in cabin class. Once, while we were playing cards on deck, a gust of wind came up and blew the cards away – some of them ended up in strangers’ tea cups! Everyone was quite good-natured about it.

My father took a great interest in the SS United States, he was so impressed by her speed and grace in the water. My brother and I loved standing on the deck and watching the wavy, light green-blue trail the SS United States left behind as she sped through the water. We also loved people-watching, listening to the many different languages spoken on board, and going through the safety drills.

The SS United States was a true and strong seafaring beauty, with real elegance and magnificent attention to detail in every way. Today’s ships seem to be more about cramming thousands of people into floating cities, it’s like being at a giant shopping mall with dozens of restaurants, pools, climbing walls, and bars, yet very little attention to passenger comfort or aesthetics. As the years go by, our appreciation for the SS United States grows exponentially!

– Mary Anne Chamberlain, who sailed SS United States with her father, mother, brother, sister in 1964 and 1966.

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Menu from a 1958 crossing made by Wilma Herzog (née Eis). Courtesy of Wilma Herzog.

Menu from a 1958 crossing made by Wilma Herzog (née Eis). Courtesy of Wilma Herzog.

I wanted to see the “Big Apple,” New York City, but had no money to go there. I had no intentions to stay in the United States forever, either. I was lucky enough to get a job contract, I thought I’d stay for one year at the utmost. And what a beginning: a trip via the SS United States. I felt like a king!

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Debra Milgrim-Heath (née Katz) boarding the SS United States with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Emil Katz. Courtesy of D.K. Milgrim-Heath.

I sailed from the NYC docks to Le Havre, France with my parents in April of 1962. They wanted to take me to see Europe in the springtime.

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The Pittner brothers aboard the SS United States, 1955. Courtesy of Michael Pittner.

I was awed by the sheer size of the SS United States when we boarded in Le Havre. I was a mere eleven-year-old lad, and an adventurous one, so the second we were aboard, my goal was to explore the ship from stem to stern. I would return to my parents to tell them where this was located and where that was to be found — I was just bubbly with excitement. I was astonished that a ship could have a swimming pool. I remember distinctly it was filled with salt water, which I didn’t expect when I jumped in. Yuk to the taste, yay to the swimming.

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The Pittner family sees the SS United States for the first time. Courtesy of Michael Pittner.

The Pittner family sees the SS United States for the first time. Courtesy of Michael Pittner.

Standing at the gangplank with mouths wide open from amazement of the size of the ship, we were photographed and later received the pictures onboard. Not only was the SS United States beautiful on the outside, but also the interior was wonderful to see, too luxurious for our way of life then.

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Manhattan skyline as seen from a ferry on the Hudson River, 1941. Courtesy of the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection/Indiana University Archives.

I came to work at Gibbs & Cox as the result of an employment ad for a “junior typist” in the New York Times. I was told by the manager of the recruitment department that it was the only time such an ad was placed. In spite of my age (either 15 or 16), I was called in, took a typing test, and passed it.

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Liz and Tracey Phalen pose in front of the SS United States, March 1963. Courtesy of Tracey Phalen.

Liz and Tracey Phalen pose in front of the SS United States, March 1963. Courtesy of Tracey Phalen.

It was so exciting when we moved away from shore with all the people waving and streamers flying — just like the movies!

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Charter Weeks film_still

Film still from “Tow Boat,” courtesy of Charter Weeks and the SS United States Conservancy.

Our principal interest was documentary filmmaking, and in order to get hired to do this, we had to have a sample. So, we decided to film a day in the life of a tow boat in New York Harbor. Moran Towing agreed – honestly, we were hoping they’d give us some money! We spent about six or eight weeks shooting the material, then we put together the film. When we presented it to Moran, they came back to us and said: “Nah, we’re not really interested in spending money on this.”

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Photo of Mary Anne Barry at age 10, in the white dress on the far right, handing in her bingo card during her 1956 crossing with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Barry. Donated by Mary Anne Cox.

Photo of Mary Anne Barry at age 10, in the white dress on the far right, handing in her bingo card during her 1956 crossing with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Barry. Donated by Mary Anne Cox.

I loved watching the arrivals at ports of call – Le Havre, Cherbourg, Southampton – for all the excitement of entering the harbors with pilot boats and tugs guiding us in and out. Waving crowds and waiting friends added to excitement.

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Arthur Bello, engineer and boiler room operator, is pictured bottom row, fifth person in from the left. Courtesy of Drew Bello.

Arthur Bello, engineer and boiler room operator, is pictured bottom row, fifth person in from the left. Courtesy of Drew Bello.

When Uncle Art was supervising the installation of the propellers, he met William Francis Gibbs.  Art said to Gibbs, “Real fine lines – that’s a beauty!” to which Gibbs responded “That she is.”

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Having never been aboard the Big U prior to this stint as ship’s surgeon, I was as flummoxed as the newly boarded passengers were about the layout of the ship. After the first three or four lost, puzzled passengers stopped me – dressed in my spiffy officer’s maritime uniform – to ask the location of this or that, I beat a hasty retreat to my cabin to study the ship’s layout. Needless to say, ego conflated with ignorance ensured I quickly learned the SS United States’ layout!

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Ensign Starace in dress uniform, 1957. Courtesy of Nicholas Starace.

I still have the pay stub from my very first trip — a whopping $424.61 before taxes, for eighteen days’ work with some overtime. That was big money in those days, certainly more than I had ever dreamed of making.

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Courtesy of Joe Rota.

Courtesy of Joe Rota.

I was up in the radio room next to the bridge and there must have been a dozen officers milling around, which was very unusual, and they all had their binoculars and were pointing out the starboard window. I stepped out and saw this submarine surfacing just about a couple of hundred yards off the starboard side. The thing that really surprised me was that she was keeping up with us, and we were doing over 30 knots. This sub came up and surfaced, flashed her light, and then went back down again. She might have been up for a minute.

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Photo courtesy of Robert Sturm.

Courtesy of Robert Sturm.

Starting as a junior engineer, it felt like entering as a freshman at college. The complexities of the machinery contributed to that feeling, the culture aboard was another factor. It took about three voyages before I began to feel at home.

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Photo courtesy of Ed Clayton.

Courtesy of Ed Clayton.

When I was off-duty, I mingled with passengers in the modern, stylish First Class interiors. I never met anyone famous, but I knew when notables were onboard, like John Wayne. The entire ship was unionized, and it was tough to get in. I was considered unlicensed personnel in the Steward’s Department. The best part of working on board the SS United States was her speed – we would be cruising at 32+ knots, even in heavy seas. Just being at sea, that was what I enjoyed most.

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Eva Heins and her son Eduard J.K. Heins boarding the SS United States in Le Havre. Courtesy of Eva M. Heins.

My husband, Edward J. Heins, Jr., was a crew member on the SS United States for her maiden voyage and sailed on the ship as her chief plumber for some time thereafter. He insisted my son and I come back on the “his ship” after one of my trips to Austria to be with my family. On May 2nd, 1963, my son Eddie (aged 6 at the time) and I embarked on the SS United States from Le Havre to New York.

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Joe Muchulsky_first class deck steward_SSUS

Courtesy of Joe Muchulsky.

I caught the end of that bygone era, the age of glamor. The passengers would wear different gowns and tuxedos every night. It wasn’t like today with gals wearing short shorts and flip flops to the lunch table. When the checkered cabs would pull up at Pier 86, they’d roll out the steamer trunks for the passengers that were coming on board. Sailing day was very high energy, you could feel it in the ship. The two days when energy would increase were always arrival and departure.

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Photo courtesy of Alex Keisch, who noted: “The second mate took the enclosed picture and staged it so that we could get the stacks in the background.  Anyone familiar with the ship would know that I am shooting the sun into the wheelhouse!”

Photo courtesy of Alex Keisch, who noted: “The second mate took the enclosed picture and staged it so that we could get the stacks in the background. Anyone familiar with the ship would know that I am shooting the sun into the wheelhouse!”

It fell on the cadets to draw the weather map each day. We worked at least an hour transposing the coded numbers into interlacing weather systems on a grid of the North Atlantic. It was all black pen on a white paper background, with one great splash of color: a red, white, and blue stack with a dot placed carefully and precisely on the leading edge. The importance of this red stack can’t be overstated since it marked our new position each day, proudly demonstrating the expanse of ocean we had traversed in the last twenty-four hours. It was the captain’s habit to check this creation of ours each morning — we all thought he was more critical of the care taken in coloring the stack than of the actual information the map revealed.

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Photo courtesy of Miguel Cruz.

Courtesy of Miguel Cruz.

After closing the scullery, we would venture into the First Class galley and pick up a couple of filet mignons, some French bread, a number 10 can of draft beer, and take them back to the aft crew deck below the main deck and watch the seas roll by. Talk about the good life!

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Photo courtesy of Hal Bingaman.

Courtesy of Hal Bingaman.

The most memorable part of the crossing was our near-forty knot speed, slicing through the Gulf Stream. Visiting the engine room was next: a quarter-million horsepower, spinning four long shafts from the power turbines to eighteen foot props; spotlessness everywhere, even in the engine room. The staff of SS United States were bright and efficient, a skilled team in complete harmony. They tended to our daughter’s needs and comforted my wife’s storm-illness.

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Photo courtesy of Beverly Jackson.

Courtesy of Beverly Jackson.

I joined forces with my parents for a going away party held in their stateroom for those who came to see you off. Until I entered my own room and saw flowers everywhere, I confess I was apprehensive that maybe no one would send me any, but all my beaus came through! Then came the time when the party must end: “All ashore who are going ashore!” blasted over the loud speaker and off the visitors went down the gang plank while the orchestra played.

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Photo courtesy of Paul MacCarthy.

Courtesy of Paul MacCarthy.

It’s a very famous call sign. Whenever you were talking to someone from the ship, anywhere around the world, it was the first thing you would say: this is Superliner United States KJEH. If you were talking to somebody in Dubai, you’d say, “This is Kilo-Juliette-Echo-Hotel.” If you were talking to somebody nearby, you’d say KJEH, because they’d know. It was the night before we arrived on one of the last trip coming across from the UK to New York; for dinner on the last night there were special menus and special music, all the guys would be wearing their best tuxedos, and the women in formal evening dress looking a like a million. A couple came in after dinner, they said to me, “We want to make a call to a very small town in New Jersey, Saddle River — you’ve probably never heard of it.” ”Heard of it?” I said, “I live in Upper Saddle River.” It’s a small world.

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Here we will share firsthand accounts from those whose lives crossed paths with the ship — passengers, crewmembers, shipbuilders, and more. The SS United States touched many lives all over the world, and not always in ways you’d expect. These transmissions from the ship’s past and present ensure the intangible history of the SS United States lives on. By broadcasting stories from individuals with deep connections to the ship, we can transmit her great legacy into the future. Join us, won’t you?

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