HJC: I read the final chapter — at more than 60 pages it is a small book! — by the boat's curator, Keith Gill, with a lot of interest because virtually everything in that chapter was new to me.
TPS: It was new to me, too! (laughter) I think Tim Mulligan suggested we bring Keith aboard, and that was a very good idea. First, as you said, he is the curator of the boat at the museum. Obviously he knows U-505 — the boat itself — better than anyone. Right now he is spending his days crawling through it matching paint chips and restoring the interior to its original condition, as far as possible. With a 6'4" frame, it is not easy!
HJC: I had always assumed a phone call or two between the Navy and museum, a tug around north through the Great Lakes, and Chicago gets a U-boat. The real story was so much more complicated.
TPS: We are very lucky to have U-505 preserved anywhere, and especially at such a fine institution like the Museum of Science and Industry, and not acting as an artificial reef off the eastern coast of the United States. Saving, obtaining title to it, and transporting and exhibiting U-505 is a story about politics, bureaucracies, rivalries, leadership, perseverance, amazing feats of engineering, and of course, money. Lots of money. As Keith makes it very clear, it was a close call between nip and tuck, and tuck almost won.
HJC: Gill also talks about what the boat meant to those who preserved it, and how its meaning has changed over time. It is quite moving, really.
TPS: Yes. His chapter, by the way, is called "Project 356: U-505 and the Journey to Chicago."
HJC: Thankfully, they are now in the process of moving the boat indoors.
TPS: It is a $35,000,000 project to build an indoor facility to house the boat. It will preserve it indefinitely. I think it will be finalized next spring or summer of 2005. U-boat enthusiasts everywhere should stand and shout their approval. They should also open their wallets and send in a donation. The museum needs the money. If you have not seen the boat live and in person, it is worth getting on a plane or driving in a car for that opportunity alone. It is that impressive.
HJC: I also found there were a lot of odd coincidences about U-505 after the war. Some of the final parts on U-505 came from boats with direct connections to it, the boat berthed next to her at Portsmouth was commanded by U-505's former First Watch Officer, and so on. It was sort of spooky.
TPS: Keith and I talked about that one night. It is a little weird. As if it was all meant to be.
HJC: Finally, I wish you would comment on Erich Topp. I have never met him, and likely never will, but you know him pretty well. Is he as much of a gentleman and friendly man as he comes across on TV interviews?
TPS: Yes, he is all that and more. I first met Admiral Topp when he was visiting the States back in early 1996. I called him in Texas, where is daughter lives, and he invited me to visit him in Southern California the following week. I did, we struck off a nice friendship, and still correspond regularly. I saw him this past December in Germany.
HJC: You were going to tell me about ordering an admiral around a bit.
TPS: Oh, that's right. I had to order him out of his car into the passenger seat when he insisted he drive. It was dark and stormy. I had been insisting for several minutes that I drive. "No! It is my car, you are my guest, and I will drive us," he told me several times. Well, he backed his old BMW out of the garage and was almost clipped by a passing car. My daughter was in the back seat and was shaking her head. I walked over to his door, opened it, and said, "Admiral, I know you used to run U-boats all over the ocean, but I am driving your car down these winding streets to Remagen. Move over."
HJC: Wow! What did he say?
TPS: He looked at me really seriously for a few seconds, then he laughed and said, "Ok, ok, you have pulled rank on me. I know you are now in charge." Something like that. I have met many German and American veterans over the years, but Topp is my favorite, perhaps because I have spent the most time with him. Jürgen Oesten is another extraordinary man, generous with his time and very friendly. It is very sad, really. Topp and so many more of these links with the past are getting up there in years, and they will not be with us much longer.
HJC: Topp wrote a very nice, but short, Foreword, that sounds like his book. Philosophical but practical. Now, what has been the most challenging thing for you, as the editor of these two projects? What has been the most interesting?
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