- Motto of Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in her privately held days
I came across this beautiful picture of one of America's greatest vessels, the SS United States, while surfing the internet. What beautiful memories I have of that great ship and an era when American seamanship and shipbuilding skills were the best in the world. And nowhere was the art of shipbuilding carried out better than at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in the Tidewater Virginia city of the same name.
The SS United States was the gem of the American luxury passenger vessels in mid-20th century. She had grace and charm, unlike the more boxy top heavy looking cruise vessels of today. She still holds the speed record for passage across the Atlantic. It was always a joy seeing her steaming into, or out of, Hampton Road harbor. Alas, her days are done and she is no loinger on the scene.
Newport News Ship is still in business today, but it is now just a part of a large international corporation and the local pride is no longer so apparent. But back during the height of American shipbuilding, the two great wars and when American military and merchant shipping led the world, Newport News was preeminent in her work. Not only was the United States built here but many of America's great warships including aircraft carriers and attack submarines.
Generation after generation of local family members made their living in a variety of trades in the shipbuilding industry. The company even had its own formal Apprentice School which trained designers and various workers in state-of-the-art technical fashion. As the largest employer in the state in those days, the city attracted new residents from throughout the region looking for permanent work. And being privately held, a local union representing workers meant a good working relationship between management and labor.
I remember as a boy accompanying my dad to a number of launchings, including the United States and the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. Launchings were a special event and the entire locality saw them as a mark of pride for what was the world's largest shipyard at the time.
I also remember fondly when ships that had been built at Newport News would return for routine repair and maintenance including the refueling of nuclear vessels. Often we would walk from school to the Hampton Roads a few blocks away to watch their arrival as they steamed by on the way to the shipyard. It was always marked with a chill of American pride running down our spines.
Today the shipyard is a shell of its former self and, of course, as a publicly held corporate entity she is just another company to be played with by the stock market. She has been a part of many large corporations, including Tenneco and Northrup Grumman and now her union is just another organization tied to big labor. The local touch and pride is nowhere near what it was in my boyhood days.
But whenever I am in Jacksonville or any other port city where the Navy calls, I still recall those days of years ago when a Newport News ship comes to port. And whether it be the USS Eisenhower, the Truman, the Reagan or any other American aircraft carrier, I know that she was built in Newport News, for the shipyard is still the only facility in the United States capable of building a floating city with a military airport. I still get a thrill at the sight of the big ships.
So here's to Newport News Shipbuilding and may she ever play an important part in the strength and readiness of America. God bless her ships and the crew they carry.