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The Ship That Would Not Die: USS Queens, SS Excambion, and USTS Texas Clipper

By Stephen Curley

College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011

9-1/4” x 10-1/4”, hardcover, xv + 235 pages

Photographs, maps, diagrams, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95

ISBN: 9781603444279 

                The bond between man and machine is often a strange and unexplainable relationship that spans distance and time. From construction to its final resting place on the ocean floor, Stephen Curley provides a meticulously written and researched account of the ship known as USS Queens, SS Excambion, and USTS Texas Clipper. The format plays a crucial role in the development of the story, as each portion opens and ends one of the lives of “the ship that would not die.” As Queens, the ship made its debut near the end of World War II and became one of five attack transports that survived the war while building an impressive career, including service at Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima. The converted Excambion cruised for sixty-eight voyages, the majority of which garnished a sterling reputation for not only the ship itself, but also for American Export Lines. After being retired due to a decline in its reputation and changes in sea based shipping, Excambion was laid up until the Texas Maritime Academy purchased the ship and ushered in its final floating chapter. Texas Clipper served as a floating classroom for over thirty years, educating many young seamen. Now an artificial reef, this ship continues to live an “unending” life. The Ship that Would not Die is not just an historical account of this wondrous vessel, but a testament to the relationship that involves man, machine, and sea.

                Each facet of the ship’s life is masterfully documented in both a technical and common parlance. Curley provides a rich and detailed context that places the reader directly on board the vessel. Whether during its important support role in World War II, its height of swank while earning a reputation for being a party ship, or during its years as a teaching vessel, one cannot help but feel a part of the ship. Curley creates a virtual walk-through of the ship by his use of engaging text, well placed context points, and personal accounts that allow the reader to connect with the past crew and ship. To call this tome an “account” is an understatement.               

         The technical information and staggering amount of information compiled in this book is impressive in and of itself. The true brilliance found throughout the pages of The Ship that Would not Die are the narratives and details provided by previous ship’s crew and others whose lives have been in one way or another connected to this machine. In complement with the anecdotes, Curley provides the reader with over a hundred photographs that are seamlessly woven throughout the text. From its construction as Queens, its voyages as a cargo-passenger liner, its many hours of service as a classroom, and its final function as home to hundreds of types of marine life, this ship will never truly die. Stephen Curley has captured the essence of the vessel known by hundreds of crewmembers, passengers, students, and divers that truly, as he concludes, “encapsulates so much of America’s dream.”

Benjamin Wells

University of West Florida