The Wreck of the Andrea Doria
The U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, and the liner Ile de France, the only ship in the area equipped with enough lifeboats to evacuate the Andrea Doria’s more than 1,000 stranded passengers, responded to the sinking ship’s call for assistance. Despite pressure to deliver its own passengers on time to New York, the Ile de France played the most significant role in rescuing passengers and crew, providing the large number of lifeboats needed to make up for those unavailable on the listing and sinking vessel. The crew of the Stockholm, which had been able to seal off the ship’s crushed bow section, was also able to ferry survivors ashore. In interviews that followed, many passengers provided favorable reviews of the rescue operations, while others complained of mistreatment aboard the Stockholm, and of Andrea Doria crew members behaving both cowardly and rudely.
Dr. Lester Sinness, who had been an involved passenger aboard the Ile de France, wrote the following in 1958: “I don’t know what account the newspapers carried of the crew of the Andrea Doria, but if only half of what I heard was true, they were a complete disgrace to themselves and the country they represent.”
Years after the wreck, survivor Anthony Grillo of Brooklyn launched and maintained the website, Andreadoria.org, to serve as an online memorial and library. Grillo, who passed away in 2004, recounted: “I was 3 years old when my mother dropped me from the side of the Andrea Doria, and I landed in a blanket on a waiting lifeboat. Over the years, I would look at the scrapbook of pictures and read and re-read Alvin Moscow’s book, Collision Course . . . A website was needed to keep the Andrea Doria alive.”
Among Grillo’s archives is one recollection written by pianist Julianne McLean of Kansas, who was 25 and a passenger on that tragic evening. Her memory of the rescue stands in stark contrast to that of Dr. Sinness—in a positive way. “The crew were wonderful,” Mclean states. “The fog was very heavy and seemed impenetrable. About four or so in the morning, someone said, ‘look at that’; I bent way down and looked across the water; there was the Ile de France with every light lit, looking like a message from the Almighty! I must say that I have always thought there were a number of miracles involved with this catastrophe: First of all, the fog lifted in total darkness, around four in the morning . . . The sea was calm . . . That blessed ship stayed afloat until later that morning, allowing everyone to get off. What a tribute to the shipbuilding skills of the Italians!”
Though some questions will likely remain unanswered as the sea off Nantucket continues to wear down the legendary ship resting on its floor, Ernest Melby’s recollection—also posted on andreadoria.org—offers a sense of closure. Melby was an electrician’s mate, first class in the U.S. Navy aboard the USNS Private William H. Thomas, one of the first ships that responded to the crash site. He concludes: “The sinking of a great and beautiful ship like the Andrea Doria is an experience that no one being involved with can ever forget. The tragedy was so monumental that it seemed unreal . . . To all survivors who were taken aboard the ‘Thomas, I salute your courage and hope we treated you right on that fateful night.”
A resident of Marion, Christopher White is a freelance writer who teaches English at Tabor Academy.
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