Life-Changing Experience Aboard the SS Andrea Doria

Portrait of Jerry Reinert
Speed painter Dale Henry of Orlando, Florida, created this portrait of Jerry Reinert ’56 at his 80th birthday party in Boca Raton. Read more about Jerry's classmates on page 40.

By Jerry Reinert ’56

My life changed about six weeks after we graduated 65 years ago. A graduation gift from my mom was a trip to Europe — round-trip, ‘four-props’ to England, France, and Italy. In Rome, I met a young lady and we hung out together for a few days. She was from South America, but was sailing with her father from Naples, Italy, to New York City on the Italian ship SS Andrea Doria. In those days, exchanging an air ticket for a ship cabin was simple, so we sailed a few days later — Naples to Gibraltar, and across the Atlantic.

On the last night, after five wonderful days and nights at sea, the SS Andrea Doria was struck by the MS Stockholm, a Swedish vessel. It was 11:11 p.m. on a foggy night. Both ships had radar, but radar was a very new device on passenger boats. The SS Andrea Doria sank 11 hours later, at 10 a.m. The Doria had 1,750 passengers and crew. We were about 50 miles northeast of Nantucket island. The Stockholm left a very large hole on the forward, starboard side of the Doria. The Doria listed to 10 degrees in about 15 minutes, thereby losing the use of its portside lifeboats. Fifty-five were killed on the Doria. Our luggage was a major hazard. It was on deck for removal when we were going to arrive in New York the next morning. Being 21, and six weeks out of Rensselaer, I formed a rescue team with two other young men. We spent the next three and a half hours carrying babies and children down the rope ladders, into our useable lifeboats and those from other rescue ships that sent us theirs. I carried 12 down the ladders. I was finally told not to go up again, and the lifeboat I was in took us to the SS ˆIle de France. It was a very happy occasion when my family learned that I survived. Ever since that day, I have lived in the PRESENT.