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by Bill Lee (Designer, Atomic, 1959) mailto:

Over almost thirty years of service at Newport News Shipbuilding, I was an apprentice, a designer, a test engineer and an engineering manager; not to mention my most interesting of all titles there – A4W Mock-Up King. But, for me, it all comes down to being privileged to be called a shipbuilder. In that regard, I consider my greatest contribution to the good works of NNS as being a small part of the talented team that designed the propulsion system for the NIMITZ-class carriers.

In retirement, I often look back and reminisce about that infectious occupation, the many talented people I once looked up to, and especially my Apprentice School peers. Since I’ve been absent from “Shipyard Virginia” for over two decades, I’ve mostly forgotten the hard work, the long hours and the frequent disappointments. Instead I remember, now, and with some idyllic fondness, what my wife calls “the shipyard that was”. Back when ships were launched and slid to the sea, when the accomplishments of NNS included a healthy percentage of commercial ship design and construction, and when nuclear propulsion was new and novel. But I don’t just reminisce; I often augment or, admittedly, adjust my memory through careful research, then write about Newport News Shipbuilding, its many famous products and the shipbuilders who conceived and created them. I prefer to write, for the most part, short stories, and I have what seems to be an endless backlog. Accordingly, this foreword introduces a work-in-progress; one that is often encouraged by fellow apprentice alumnus.


The index that follows will be modified, periodically, as this collection of stories, is expanded. As I am fond of saying, these days: That’s my job, that’s what I do.

  Most of all, I like to write about the SS AMERICA (NNS Hull No. 369). Born within sight of her shipbuilding cradle (Shipway #8), I attended her launching ceremonies in August, 1939 at the tender age of three. That inspiration, coupled with a childhood of frequent visual and audible memories of her – both as AMERICA and WEST POINT - created the basis for my life-long affection for this former Queen of the American Merchant Marine.

A number of fellow enthusiasts, or “amerifans”, as I like to refer to them consider me to be the unofficial historian of this once-proud and beautiful vessel. I do not disagree.

Under the North Pole Almost 12/23/18   Trippin to 1948 Olympics 01/23/19
A WWI Hero Remembered 11/11/18   Monitor ARKANSAS 12/02/18
The Kalamity Class 10/05/18   LST Test Facility 10/08/18
Ship of Miracles 07/24/18   Best Damn Waver in the Fleet 06/18/18
Davids and Golith 05/25/18   Clandestine Projects 04/25/18
AMERICAN MARINER 04/09/18   The Yacht American 0318/18
A Mishap at Sea 03/07/18   Hospital Ship Solace (AH-2) 02/12/18
First Across  First Pilot to Fly the Atlantic 01/20/18   River Gunboat SAN PABLO 12/31/17
USS VESTAL (AR-4)... and Cassin Young 12/07/17   SS PRINZESSIN VICTORIA LUISE 11/17/17
Merchant Unterseeboots 10/27/17   HMS MENESTHEUS British Ingenuity 10/05/17
NN-Norfolk Ferries 09/14/17   Perilous Passage 08/29/17
The Saginaw Saga 08/01/17   I-400 Last Voyage 07/18/17
USS NASHVILLE 07/03/17   Curious Carriers - Hybrid Aircraft Carriers 05/20/17
The US Navy's First Warships 04/18/17   McCormack's Pipe Dream 03/17/17
Wooden White Elephants 02/22/17   Art Deco Vessels 02/02/17
Dodge Watercar 01/17/17   The Birth of "The Blues" 12/28/16
USS HOGA -  Last Navy Vessel Still Afloat That Was Present At Pearl Harbor On December 7, 1941 12/04/16   FIRST AIRMAIL FROM SHIP TO SHORE… AND VICE-VERSA 11/21/16
A Backwards Ship Conversion "FROM STEAM TO SAIL!"
NNS' Most Unusual Ship Conversion
11/02/16   SHIPBUILDING 101 @ 30,000 FEET 10/19/16
Deliberate Ditching in the James 10/03/16   Memories of Main Navy 09/12/16
SUDAN  Last Nile Paddlewheeler 08/29/16   USS Recruit 08/12/16
Wings Over Water 07/13/16 Concrete Battleship 06/24/16
Father Joe & Big Ben 05/30/16 UPDATE - SS MEDINA 05/15/16
Extracting ENTERPRISE Experiences 05/02/16   USS AVC-1 - Unnamed, Unpowered, Underutilized 04/18/16
NR-1 Only nuclear powered, deep submergence research vessel 03/14/16 Flights of Fantasy 02/22/16
SS BAYCHIMO Ghost Ship of the Arcitic 02/04/16   Eagle Patrol Boats Henry Ford's Shipbuilding Venture 01/19/16
Original James River Bridge 01/04/16   DOROTHY's Namesake 125th Anniversary 12/17/15
Sergent Edward F Younger 11/11/15   The Good Neighbor Fleet 11/24/15
Sea-going Airship Base PATOKA 10/21/15   A Doggone Good Sea Story 10/06/15
Ships Named Newport News 09/16/15   The Stcky Story of Duck Tape 09/03/15
Graveyard Essay Trench  94 08/20/15   NOMADIC  Tender to TITANIC 08/01/15
AMERICA'S Kennels 07/13/15   Innocuous Double Botton Initiations 06/27/15
Catapult Armed Merchantmen 06/08/15   NNS Yachts A tale of maritime luxury - in a time of economic need 05/13/15
America's First Aircraft Carrier Sorties 03/17/15   Curtiss Flying School 04/09/15
Institution in Transition 02/02/15 HWAH JANG's Bold Undertaking 02/23/15
SS AMERICA Towing Tank Model 12/29/14 Epidemic at Sea 01/12/15
Another NN Shipyard 11/26/14   A Pearl Harbor Survivors Story 12/09/14
PYKRETE  an obscure word not well known - nor is its story from World War II. Read on! 10/07/14   Shipyard Speculative Success 11/05/14
 STURGIS MH-1A World’s First Floating Nuclear Power Station 08/15/14   An Engineer's Engineer 09/10/14
Kiptopeke Concrete Carcasses 07/28/14   A Tale of Two Colliers 06/23/14
Midshipmens Monetary Mission 06/02/14 Sub Builder Sunk Saved 05/12/14
Shipbuilding on Shooters Island 04/09/14   Sails Sea Ice Science 03/19/14
Smokey Joe C&O's golden age of railroading and steamboating 02/24/14   When Agnes Went to War 'Greatest Genetration' tale of World War II 02/06/14
Mariners' Museum Memories 01/21/14 NNS’ First Employee Educational Facility 1890-1926 12/29/13
A WELL- ROUNDED WARSHIP DESIGN 11/03/13   US NAVY Band_Unit_#22 12/05/13
TDR First Navy Drone 09/15/13   Shipyard Apartments 10/18/13
A Civil War What If 08/27/13   Howards Mountain 07/28/13
Spy Ships   -  Cold War Warriors Created at NNS! 06/28/13 Amercia's First Atomic Admirial 06/09/13
The Ship That  Saved NNS 05/20/13 Naval Shipbuilding on the James Before Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) 05/02/13
An Industrial Revolution - NNS Innovative Answers to a Naval Shipbuilding Hiatus 03/28/13  Charlotte's Navy Yard 03/10/13
 Q Ships of Newport News World War II Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
02/13/13   D-(Draft) Day at the A School 01/18/13
 Two Sister ... Two Sagas 12/18/12   HMAS PING WO Underpowered, Underarmed & Unsafe 11/16/12
Monk White 11/2/12 Bonnie and the Bomne 10/12/12
Franklin Buchanan 09/12/12   Operation Chariot 09/18/12
Builders Park 08/23/12 Recycled Battleships 08/07/12
RAYDIST an electronic  instrument as state of the art in 1952 as the SS UNITED STATES 07/19/12   Odyssey of the Willie 06/20/12
The Making of a Museum 05/30/12   Tug Huntington Highlighed in New Exhibit 05/18/12
Ralph W Cousins 05/07/12   Titanic Apprentices 04/17/12
When Nuclear Power was Flying High 04/13/12 Jame River Shipbuilding Company 03/19/12
Sixty Five Years Ago 03/05/12   When NNI topped them all 02/09/12
Arctic Adventure 01/05/12   Solace for the Suffering  12/07/11
The Yoho Tradition 11/02/11   The Ballad of Whitey Mack 08/23/11
Bud Ackerman Remembers 07/06/11   June 15th - Seventy Years Ago USS WEST POINT Commissioned at Newport News 06/15/11
Joseph Henry - One of a Kind 04/13/11    Desmond Thomas Doss NNS Medal of Honor Recipient 05/26/11

Unused Newport News Shipbuilding Hull Numbers

03/08/11   GRAF ZEPPELIN Germany's Almost Aircraft Carrier 02/16/11
BINGHAMTON NNS Hull #49 People Mover & Pleaser for over a Century 12/21/10   FLYING CODFISH AIRLINES An Uplifting Experience after an Exasperating Experiment 12/03/10
Celebrating Naval Aviation’s Centennial…and the Beginning of Eight Decades of Aircraft Carrier Creativity at Newport News 11/01/10  
Personal Encounters with Mister Ed Edward J. Campbell (1928-2010)
Scuttled Supercarrier 09/17/10   Nameless... But Numbered 08/27/10
NNS’ Most Improbable Aircraft Carrier 07/16/10 HAITI’S Historic Helping Hand Rev A 06/13/10
SS MEDINA We shall build good ships 04/05/10   Ship VS. Boat 03/19/10
Our Other Invaluable Apprenticeship... "Shift Test Engineer" 01/20/10   Birthing Baby Flattops 10/20/09
The Admiral and Me (Admiral Rickover) 09/22/09 Flying Moby by Philip E. Boyer 09/09/09
Paddlewheel Aifcraft Carriers 08/21/09   A Spare Parts Sea Story 08/07/09
Apprentice Alumni Association's Oldest Member 07/13/09   Shipyard Bulletin Docking the United States 06/26/09
HUNTINGTON – NNS Hull #356 06/12/09   Apprentice Alumni Association's First President 05/21/09
The First And Highly Successful Decade of Nuclear Power 03/30/09   A Tale of Two Hoffmann's 01/20/09
With the Eye of a Draftsman 11/14/08   The Building of America 10/27/08
A Shipbuilder Field Trip 08/22/08   Ship in the Desert 06/18/08
A Most Unusual Carrier Memorial 04/25/08   Glancing Astern - Full Speed Ahead 04/04/08
Harold Johnson 02/25/07   The Battle of Pier 2 12/07/07
Not Your Typical Teenage Adventure 09/28/07 Remembering Dick Broad 08/20/07
A Field Trip to Hades 06/18/07   Cradle of Victory 06/12/07
A Family of Shipbuilders 05/05/07   Apprentice Americas Christmas Gift 12/11/06
The Story of a Vintage Apprentice School Student Handbook 08/28/06   Marcus Ritger - Photographer for the Queen 06/04/06
Norwood Jones - A Man of Firsts 06/04/06   "Sliding to the Sea" 02/17/06
"Apprentices Take a Stand" 04/17/05   "A Lesson for Mr. Gibbs" 12/09/03
"September, 1944 Shipyard Bulletin" 06/04/03   "The Apprentice Experience" 04/24/03
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