The Real Story of How Intrepid Was Saved

It all started in 1973 when a team of enthusiastic people got together in an attempt to save aircraft carriers from the scrap heap.

With the idea of ‘establishing’ a STOL (Short Take Off Landing) Airport utilizing the former WWII carriers, USS Essex (CV-9) and USS Randolph (CV-15) the idea progressed. By removing both bow sections and welding the balance of the carrier hulls and flight decks together (i.e.: bow-to-bow), the combination of their flight decks could then be used as a landing strip to be located in the area of Pier 76, on the Hudson River, supporting special aircraft that can take off and land within limited runway length. One of the original enthusiasts, Mr. Michael Piccola, with a group called ‘Odysseys in Flight’, created a STOL‘diaorama’ aboard the Essex which proved to be an unsuccessful venture .

With the failure of the ‘Odysseys in Flight’ project, Piccola and his group, endeavored to obtain a ‘carrier’ for a somewhat similar purpose of utilizing it to display actual aircraft and other sea and space displays, thus establishing what would be called, for the lack of a better term, a Floating Naval Aircraft Museum.

The first attempt, prior to 1978, by ‘Odysseys in Flight’ to save a carrier was the USS Lexington (CV-16) – decommissioned on November 26, 1991- but the Lexington was already committed to become a museum and  now rests in Corpus Christi, TX. The second attempt was to gain access to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) which at that time, was promised to a private company. A third attempt was for the USS Shangri-La (CV-38), which, at that time, was pier side at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. And, by happen-stance, the USS Intrepid (CV-11) was moored on the opposite side of the Shangri-La. By the time enough backing was secured by ‘Odysseys in Flight’ for a carrier, the Shangri-La was too far gone to save.

Odysseys in Flight’ originally consisted of six members and in 1976 the group recruited Mr. James Ean and Mr. Larry Sowinski to assist in acquiring an aircraft carrier, for the purpose of converting it to their Museum.

The idea to do a make-over of an aircraft carrier to be a Museum in New York City was an idea that floated around for a couple of years, but it soon became apparent that in order to accomplish this considerable feat, the group had to acquire a berth along the Hudson River and also be able to show some financial viability and backing in order to have a vessel donated by the U.S. NAVY.  Thus, ‘Odysseys in Flight’ embarked on a pilgrimage. Before their quest was over, they had secured the approval of two Presidents of the United States – Carter and Reagan; Secretaries of the Navy Woolsey, Hildalgo, and Lehman; Mayors Beame and Koch; and four Port and Terminal Commissioners Mastriani, Gliedman, Heilbron and Seale.

In securing the interest of the Navy the group progressed up a ladder of friends who became enthusiasts for their undertaking. Advertising executive Mr. Michael Gillespie introduced them to Captain Ted Wilbur, editor of Naval Aviation News.  Wilbur, a former Navy fighter pilot and renowned aviation artist, had been part of the team that created the great Navy Air Exhibit in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum. With his help ‘Odysseys in Flight’ climbed the Navy chain-of-command, ending with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Hayward.

In New York, where the group had to secure a berth and financing – ultimately, over $20 million – the National Maritime Historical Society’s Chairman, the late Admiral John M. Will, led them to the late Rear Admiral John Bergen, a retired Naval Reserve officer prominent in the hotel business and dedicated to the project.  Mr. Dick Shortway, editor and publisher of VOGUE Magazine, arranged and set up a breakfast meeting, inviting some of the most influential people in the Big Apple.  It was then, a shy retiring type, Mr. Zachary Fisher, wearing a New York Yankee tie, was befriended by James Ean. The next morning a surprise phone call came to Ean from Mr. Fisher, an unassuming individual and business partner of New York based Fisher Brothers.

Note: Fisher, with his wife Elizabeth, eventually funded a campaign to turn the WWII aircraft carrier USS Intrepid into America’s largest naval museum, to memorialize the distinguished aircraft carrier and to honor the men and women of the armed forces and their families. The Museum, now known as The Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum is now one of America’s leading historic, cultural and educational institutions and has hosted more than 10 million visitors since first opening in 1982. The entire Fisher family is still the museum’s largest supporter and maintains seats on its Board of Directors.

In 1978, in need of a first rate; well known and accessible place for ‘Odysseys in Flight’s’ first major press conference, they were fortunate in obtaining a location.  As fate would have it, the top representative of the U.S. Customs Office in New York, Mr. Edward ‘Ed’ Coyne, provided ‘Odysseys in Flight’ with a first rate site at the U.S. Customs House that was, at that time, connected to the World Trade Center. Incidentally, Ed Coyne is a former WWII USS Intrepid crewmember, and no doubt, didn’t have a problem providing ‘Odysseys in Flight’ a suitable meeting place. Also present at this meeting was another enthusiastic and interested citizen – and film starMs. Maureen Ohara.

According to former Intrepid crewmember, Mr. Ralph W. Slane – ‘That’s the story.’

Anyone who thinks there is another version, please contact Ralph Slane at ralphwslane@aol.com . Ralph has  original letterheads of ‘Odysseys in Flight’ and the original first formation of the Intrepid Museum Foundation, Inc. letterheads which lists the names of all the foundation’s Board Advisors and  Trustees.

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2 Comments

  1. Al Ribbe

     /  October 21, 2012

    Found this to be VERY interesting. Being one of the founding members of the Former Crewmembers Association I always like to learn new facts about Intrepid. Thanks Ralph, and thanks John. God bless your dedication! Al Ribbe

    Reply
    • Al, great hearing from you, and as a fellow Past President of the USS Intrepid Association, Inc. (’03-’05), I especially appreciate your comments knowing that we both strived to do our best for the Association. And I THANK YOUR past and present dedication to the cause. As to Ralph…you will not find a more dedicated, generous and upstanding gentleman and former crew member. John Simonetti

      Reply

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