Transmission 19: Michael Pittner


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.

Another thing I loved to do was to lean into the breeze as the SS United States sped along. Shuffleboard? What an odd game, but, there it was. Something to do while racing across the Atlantic. The just-released Disney movie “Lady and the Tramp,” was shown, which was a huge deal to me, although at the time, I spoke zero English!

I thought it was REALLY cool to be able to sleep in a bunk bed (never having seen one of those before). It was fun playing peek-a-boo with my parents who had the bunk below. I remember the extravagant meals, too — coming from a war-torn country, the kinds and  amount of food available was, I felt, only for kings and queens. We actually felt ashamed to eat those luscious meals.

I remember, too, the celebration on the 4th of July, though I had no clue what the fuss was about. There were party hats, music, balloons, outstanding food, and lots of fun. I had no knowledge of a “4th of July,” so I honestly thought the crew and passengers were throwing a party to welcome my family to the USA!

— Michael Pittner, who emigrated from Germany aboard the SS United States in 1955  with his father Eugene, his mother Emma, his fifteen-year-old brother Winfried, and sixteen-year-old brother Norbert