I followed the effort to bring the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy to Portland with interest. Not only did the carrier’s huge size, larger than New York City’s USS Intrepid, argue against a Portland berth, but the carrier, built in Newport News, Va., has weak Maine ties.
“Big John,” as they call her, was not the right ship, but the idea of a Maine museum ship is a splendid one. So why not consider a ship with Maine ties?
One exists. The USS Williamsburg, unused, is stored in an Italian shipyard. Launched by Bath Iron Works in 1930 as the private yacht Aras, it served the Navy in WWII and was a Woods Hole research vessel as well as Harry Truman’s presidential yacht.
The USS Williamsburg, restored, would look grand near DiMillo’s in Portland Harbor, painted glistening white. It would be a draw to bring them in from the beaches of southern Maine and from the outports of Down East.
Until recently, Maine seemed indifferent to its proud maritime traditions outside the dude schooner fleet of Camden.
The loss of Maine’s maritime heritage reminds me of the celebrated New Zealand film “Once Were Warriors,” where the decline of the proud Maori is traced with dramatic effect. With Maine, we could paraphrase its title to “Once We Were Mariners.”
Why not honor Maine’s proud maritime traditions by preserving one of the presidential yachts? Why not bring home one of Bath Iron Works’ most celebrated ships?
Steve Lindsey is a resident of Keene, N.H.