HARRY REA AND THE ANDREA DORIA
By Chet Klingensmith R-88
The band was playing "Arrivaderci, Roma" in the ballroom of the Italian ship Andrea Doria at 11:00 P.M. on July 25, 1956. At that moment, Second Radio Officer Harry E. Rea was drinking a Coke with Third Radio Officer Sorano in the radio shack of the ship USNS Pvt. William H. Thomas, a Navy troop transport enroute from Barcelona, Spain to New York.
Minutes later, at 11:17 P.M., an SOS blared on 500 KCs and Harry joined in copying the position the Andrea Doria was giving. She had just been struck by the Swedish liner Stockholm, about 45 miles south of Nantucket. Having worked from March of 1952 to 1956 at the ITT-Mackay radio station "WSL" on Long Island, Harry immediately knew the ships involved by their call signs. When Harry ran with the message to the bridge they discovered they were only 14 miles away. Captain John S. Shea ordered a change of course in the heavy fog and set out to help in what would prove to the be greatest sea rescue in history.
The luxury liner Ile de France, out-bound from New York, also received the SOS and promptly reversed her course. Her Captain, Raoul De Beauden, would soon perform brilliantly in rescuing 753 passengers, "many half-naked," from the doomed Andrea Doria. He had been advised by the Andrea Doria that they desperately needed lifeboats because, due to the severe list to starboard, they were unable to lower any of the lifeboats on the port side of the ship.
The William Thomas soon had the Andrea Doria in sight and within a mile dropped anchor and launched lifeboats. About an hour later the Ile de France arrived, stopped within 500 feet, turned on all lights and lowered lifeboats. The crew began rescue operations with great speed and skill.
Harry recalled the first message he sent to the Andrea Doria was that the William Thomas had the injured vessel on its radar screen and was five miles away. He said the Andrea Doria answered with the message: "You hurry! You hurry!" In a short time, Rea explained, lifeboats were in the water picking up survivors. He said the toughest part was lowering passengers from the main deck into the lifeboats. Although the Stockholms bow was badly damaged, she was in no danger of sinking and actually rescued over 400 survivors.
A newspaper account quoted Harry as saying, "Some people panicked! Some were jumping from the ship into the water and others were dropping their children into the water below. He said the Chief Engineer of the damaged Italian ship, along with a skeleton crew, spent grueling hours in the engine room manning the pumps. He believed that only through their efforts was the ship able to stay afloat as long as it did to enable so many survivors to be rescued."
Since Harry Rea had more experience than either Chief Radio Officer George Callas or Third Radio Officer Sorano, it was agreed that Harry should handle the radio traffic, which he did from 11:45 P.M. until 10:00 A.M. the next morning. Third Radio Officer Sorano boarded one of the lifeboats equipped with a radio, with the plan of radioing information from the scene. He became too busy, however, helping retrieve survivors off the Jacobs ladder into the lifeboat. That was until he urged a rather large lady he was helping to "let go." She did. They both fell backward into the lifeboat and Sorano broke his arm when he hit the gunwale.There are as many gripping stories as there were passengers on the Andrea Doria. One involves then well known Hollywood actress Ruth Roman returning to the states with her three year-old son Richard. He was strapped to an officer cadet who climbed down the Jacobs ladder and handed him to a lifeboat crewman. He then said "no more room" as the lifeboat pulled away. She "clung to the Jacobs ladder about ten minutes until another lifeboat arrived." It took her to the Ile de France while the previous lifeboat took her son to Harrys ship, the William Thomas. Later, when the ship arrived at Brooklyn Navy Yard with its survivors, newsman Walter Cronkite was there with a film crew and Ms Roman to re- unite with her son. (Although some newspaper reports state that Ruth Romans son was on the Stockholm, both Harry and another William Thomas crewman, Ernest Melby, attest that he was rescued by the William Thomas and delivered to Ms. Roman at the Brooklyn Army Base Pier. Harry explained that some of the Stockholm lifeboats delivered survivors to the William Thomas which might have caused the confusion. Ruth Roman could see her son being taken off in a Stockholm lifeboat.)
The wife of Dr. T.S. Peterson of New Jersey was trapped in her crushed cabin and was unable to be set free. All her husband could do was give her morphine to ease her pain. A hydraulic jack was sent over from the William Thomas but it was unable to free her. It now rests with her in the deep water south of Nantucket.
When Maria Dooner, the two and a half year-old daughter of passenger Lillian Dooner, fell into the ocean, Mrs. Dooner dived in and was able to save her and herself. Fifty one others, including women and children, were not so fortunate. About five drowned, some died of their injuries after the rescue, 26 died on C deck, others were on other decks and a few crew members of the Stockholm died in the collision.
Dr. and Mrs. De Sandro dropped their four year-old daughter from deck onto a lifeboat, causing a severe injury to her head. The lifeboat took her to the Stockholm where the ships doctor ordered her flown by helicopter to Brighton Marine Hospital in Boston. The De Sandros were taken to the Ile de France and had no idea where she was. It was only by chance that the Italian born child, without identification, was re-united with her parents, eighteen hours before dying of her injuries.
A more fortunate survivor dropped into a lifeboat is Anthony Grillo. He was three years old when his mother, Angela, "had the courage" to drop him into a stretched-out blanket. He was taken to the Ile de France where his mother found him several hours later. Nearly 20 years later Anthony Grillo met a fellow employee at ADT Security and in conversation found he was a survivor also. What are the odds? Anthony attended the 40th survivors reunion at Kings Point. (Check out Anthonys web site at www.andreadoria.org.)
Ray Maurstad was the Radio Officer on the tanker SS Robert E. Hopkins outbound from Fall River, Mass. headed back to Texas. His was the fourth ship on the scene. "I believe good, fast communications were responsible for saving the lives of 1655 passengers and crew. We picked up the last survivor; he was hanging on the stern, stark naked, holding on for dear life and hollering for help." Ray is also a graduate of Gallups Island Radio School.
One of Harrys radio messages at 7:40 A.M. of the morning after the collision read, " No communication with Andrea Doria. Has 45-degree starboard list. Large gash below starboard bridge wing. List increasing. Seaworthiness nil. Last report Captain and 11 crew still on board. No passengers." His ship, USNS Pvt. William H. Thomas, had rescued 158 survivors, and it was a point in Harrys 37 year career as a sea-going Radio Officer that he will never forget. He handled a tremendous volume of radio traffic in that event.
Giving his opinion of the cause of this tragedy, Harry said, "On early Radars, ghosts would appear on the screen when you got near a target or ship. At close range they would smear all around the screen no matter how the mileage was set...that may be why the Andrea Doria evidently picked up the wrong image and turned in front of the Stockholm." Harry admired the selflessness and courage of all the men who worked all night and into the morning taking the lifeboats to and from. Their lives were in great danger because they were right up against a ship that could suddenly go down at any minute and take them down with her.
Harry Rea was born in Blawnox near Pittsburgh, PA. Three years into WW II he took an early "graduation" from Aspinwall High School to attend the U.S. Maritime Service Radio Training Station at Gallups Island in Boston Harbor. He graduated on March 15, 1944, in Class R-56. Harrys first ship, the tanker SS Oscar Strauss out of Marcus Hook, Pa, joined a convoy bound for Gibraltar. He watched as a Gallups Island classmate aboard a cargo ship with a deck loaded with "Av-Gas" was blown up by a torpedo from a German U-boat just seven days out. Now retired, Harry lives in Destin, FL.
(Authors Footnote: Harry and I were high school classmates and I was influenced to also join the Merchant Marine. I graduated from Gallups in the class of R-88 in March of 1945. The war in the Pacific was still raging. I was on my second trip to the Philippines as Second Radio Officer on the T-2 tanker SS Fort Fetterman when the Enola Gay dropped the A-bomb to end WW II. I soon left the sea to start college but, after six months, was grabbed for 18 months service in the U.S. Army. It would be another year before Merchant Marine service counted as "service.")
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