John Lahm was a 25-year-old electrician helping to build a waterfront power plant in Chester when he saw the ship cruising north on the Delaware River.
All around him, work stopped. Hundreds of men stood and stared at the strange-looking vessel, nearly as long as a battleship and outfitted with armlike cranes and a tall central tower.
“That’s the Howard Hughes boat,” a man next to him said.
Years passed before Lahm learned what he had seen that day in 1974: The Hughes Glomar Explorer, a CIA spy ship so secret that even now, 40 years later, the breadth of its mission has never been fully declassified.
It was built at enormous cost for an audacious Cold War task: to recover a sunken Soviet submarine from beneath three miles of water and capture the nuclear missiles, code books, and decoding machines that lay within it.
Today, 68 and retired, Lahm is on a mission of his own: to bring the Glomar Explorer to the Philadelphia waterfront, near where it was built at Chester’s Sun Shipyard. The ship sits idle these days on the other side of the world.
“Why not try to get that ship?” asked Lahm, who has written to government officials to seek their backing. “I’m doing everything I can, because I see an opportunity for this state, and if I don’t shout it from the rooftops, no one will.”