REMEMBERING AND HONORING THE USS WEST POINT
AND HER DEPARTED CREWMEMBERS
by Bill Lee
On Saturday, February 24, 2007, a short, simple and sincere ceremony took place in the Canary Islands. Flying over the rusted, ravaged remains of the once-mighty USS WEST POINT, two new-found, treasured friends of mine paused to remember the ship in far better days, and - most importantly - to honor the memory of her crew members that are no longer with us. A beautiful wreath was dropped in the sea, after Jurgen DeHaas solemnly intoned these words, imprinted on two ribbons attached to the wreath:
In memory of the men of WEST POINT, who once sailed her
in harm's way and have now gone to their eternal duty stations.
Saddened by images of the vessel's current condition, I nevertheless was elated with this satisfying symbol of international cooperation, based on a suggestion of mine. Jurgen and his partner in business and pleasure, Sixta Zerlauth are German nationals, whose acquaintance I gained through the magic of the Internet. Born in 1949 and 1956, respectively, they fortunately did not experience the horrors of World War Two, but have a great appreciation and much admiration for the accomplishments of the ship and her crew in those troubling times. Jurgen served in the German Air Force before attending the University of Cologne, where he studied economics and information technology. Sixta also studied information technology and became a software engineer for electronic data processing.
Currently, they are co-owners of an Information Technology consulting firm in Ebersberg, Germany. In addition, they share an avocation - exploring - and have utilized their technical expertise to create an 'outdoor' web site, called the Explorer Magazin. After reading some articles about the wreck of the ship once known as WEST POINT (originally the AMERICA, and finally, the AMERICAN STAR) they first journeyed to the wreck site in 2004.
Jurgen's first impression was that this was not an ordinary shipwreck, but - due to her extensive history - perhaps the most important wreck in the world that can be visited that is not inaccessible underwater. He and Sixta have revisited the wreck site every year since, and have added extensive information about the ship to a dedicated portion of their web site. An English language version can be explored at www.american-star.eu .
Captivated by the sight of the ship, when he returned home Jurgen embarked on a quest to learn the full history of the ship. Inevitably, he came across my name on the Internet. It has a decided pleasure to become acquainted with them, albeit only by email and exchanges of photos, and to aid them in creating an elaborate electronic tribute to the ship once called The Queen of the American Merchant Marine. Currently, their extensive web site contains a detailed history of the ship, a semi-technical analysis of the deterioration of the ship since grounding in 1994, and other relevant items, such as A Ghost Story, which was previously included in the May, 2004 issue of The Pointer's Pup.
Their pilgrimage this year included photographically documenting the current status of the wreck's remains. The past winter has not been kind to her. Throughout 2006, and into the first quarter of 2007, the remains suffered accelerated damage, as the sea methodically swallowed up great chunks of her superstructure, and tore away shocking amounts of her once-sturdy hull. In addition, there has been a significant increase in a port side list - now estimated at 55 degrees. The greatest apparent change, over the past year, is the disappearance of her smokestacks, foremast and superstructure.
Everything above the Upper Deck is now gone. Much of her port side plating and decks have now been claimed by Mother Nature. As a result, a portion of her starboard side has collapsed inwards. In addition, at least one large hull section has broken free and lies closer to the beach, alongside the main body of the wreck.
What currently remains is little more than an increasingly fragile shell.
Because of the shallow water where a storm tide originally pushed her bow section, it likely will be decades before all signs of this once-proud ship completely disappear from view. Until then, what may well mark the site will be a grim 'grave marker' consisting of her tortured remains in the form of an undistinguishable heap of rusting metal.
I am confident that we can count on Jurgen and Sixta to provide future reports, and I am equally confident that the members of the USS WEST POINT Reunion Association join me in thanking these two sensitive explorers most sincerely for the wonderful efforts they put forth to honor AP-23's departed shipmates. And so...
THANK YOU, SIXTA! THANK YOU, JURGEN!