By Dan Wing
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – On Friday night, a documentary film about the record-breaking maiden voyage of the S.S. United States premiered as part of on-going efforts to preserve, and eventually repurpose the ship into a floating museum. The ship set the record for trans-Atlantic travel. In addition to the film, the night featured an appearance by former Philadelphia Eagles Coach Dick Vermeil.
Susan Gibbs is president of the S.S. United States Conservancy, and in addition to the history of the ship, preserving it also holds a special place in her heart as her grandfather designed the vessel.
“It was his lifelong quest to design the perfect ship, and it’s been out of service since 1969 and is just awaiting a new lease on life. And we are just fighting so hard to give it a second chance.”
The ship holds a spot in the hearts of many, and that includes former Eagles Coach Dick Vermeil. Vermeil says a $5 million donation from his friend Gerry Lenfest inspired him to get involved.
“I just figured if he was willing to give his money, the least I could do is give my time. He’s a wonderful human being doing what he does, and I just figured I’ll just try to back his contribution from a physical standpoint.”
Vermeil also feels the ship is a valuable piece of American history.
“And it was the best of the best, and it can go faster than the best, or it could. That’s not the goal, the goal is to preserve it- keep it afloat. Then gradually restore it to the point where the country can enjoy it again.”
Some crew members from the ship’s maiden voyage were also on hand, sharing their memories of America’s Flagship.
Joe Rota holds many fond memories of the ship. Like meeting President Truman and his wife, and a number of celebrities such as Burt Lancaster. But the vessel itself was the biggest star.
“For a young man growing up in a very small town in New Jersey, the experience of just being on the ship was enough to last a life time.”
The evening was capped off with a ceremonial lighting of the ship’s funnel.