The End of America

The America was launched at Newport News on 31 August 1939, just one day before the Nazi invasion of Poland put an end to the North Atlantic passenger trade she was designed to serve. Instead, as the USS West Point she carried 350,000 men to the battlefields in Europe and the South Pacific and then joined in the triumphant Magic Carpet voyages that brought 8 million men home to their families. Discharged in 1946 with two campaign medals (European-African-Middle Eastern and Asiatic Pacific) as well as the American Defense Service and World War II Victory medals, she was freed to resume her original name and her planned career.

The 1950s were the glamorous sunset of the Atlantic run, when Monroe and Russell pursued their amorous adventures aboard a luxurious liner. Although neither as large as her sister United States or the Queens of the trade – the Cunard’s Mary and Elizabeth – many found America’s lines cleaner and more graceful, and she did a good business flying the American flag on the run from New York to Cobh, LeHavre and Bremerhaven.

But when you could jet comfortably across the Atlantic in a matter of hours while a sea voyage took days the liners suddenly found themselves obsolete. SS America changed hands, names and flags in a long downward slide.  New owners subdivided cabins and added bunks to increase passenger capacity and she found a new niche carrying emigrants from England to Australia and New Zealand, but that trade dried up too in the 1970s.

Greek owners renamed her America but failed to make her a cruise ship. There were too many new Love Boats designed to offer the fun the customers wanted.

In 1993 new owners devised a plan to turn the old ship into a floating hotel at the appropriately named port of Phuket in Thailand. Renamed the American Star – although the owners did not trouble to paint out the old names on her bows and stern – her propellers were removed, the bridge painted a bright orange and a Ukrainian tug towed her out of a Greek harbor.

In a storm and heavy seas in the Atlantic the old liner shook off her towlines and floated free until the wind and waves drove her onto a rocky beach in the Canary Islands. Over the next decade the locals, tourists and fascinated observers on Google Earth watched the remorseless surf break the old ship apart. The last remnant of her forecastle finally disappeared beneath the waves in 2013.

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