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D-Day landing ship now calls Evansville home

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Evansville, Indiana – On Thursday, eighty years ago, the LST-325’s decks were a completely different place.

According to the folks who currently maintain her, LST-325 was built in Philadelphia two years earlier and had previously participated in the Italy landings at Sicily and Salerno. She was part of what witnesses, both Allied and Axis, saw as an unbroken wall of ships covering the English Channel’s waters on the morning of June 6, 1944. Tanks and trucks sat in her hold, as soldiers retrieved gear from bunks below decks. Her destination was a crescent-shaped swath of beach that would become famously known in America as Bloody Omaha.

“If anything, there’s a lot of nerves going on,” Museum Operations Coordinator Cory Burdette said of that morning. “These guys are probably feeling a bunch of different emotions, including fear, probably regrets. As soon as they get the call, they get ready.”

Large tanks like LST-325 were among the approximately 4,100 landing craft that participated in the Landing Ship competition. Longer than three hundred feet and able to shift up to four thousand tons, they transported the largest armored vehicles of the Allies and assisted in launching the Higgins boats that transported the soldiers to the coast. The LSTs themselves featured ramps that let cars drive straight onto a beach from their decks—a pier wasn’t necessary.

Evansville residents would have instantly recognized LST-325. More than 22,000 people, Burdette said, produced 167 ships similar to her at the Evansville shipyard—more than at any other shipyard throughout the war. He said that those employees put in a lot of overtime. They were from the entire tri-state region. The majority of them were female.

“These people are working themselves to the bone to make sure that these get done correctly but also get done quickly,” he said.

According to Burdette, soldiers would have ascended rope ladders aboard Higgins boats launched from the ship’s side, as it was deemed too hazardous for the LSTs to land directly on the beaches that day. Although Burdette stated that the specific cargo of LST-325 that day is unknown, her sizable tank deck was probably utilized as a temporary floating hospital. According to Department of Defense figures, the combined casualties suffered by the 1st and 29th Infantry divisions on Omaha Beach amounted to 2,400, which is almost twice as many as the total for the other four D-Day beaches. She may have also been carrying German prisoners.

On June 8, according to Burdette, the ship dropped its first cargo right onto the shore. She ferried supplies back and forth across the Channel for the remainder of the war, finally stopping at every D-Day beach but Sword Beach. Before being returned to the United States in 2001, the ship was eventually sold to the Hellenic Navy. Since 2005, she has resided in Evansville. Only two LSTs remain in World War II configuration in the United States, and this ship is the only one that is still in service, according to Burdette. He stated that the museum crew will keep taking her on annual voyages across the US for as long as they can.

Burdette said the ship still receives visits from WWII veterans, even though the number of surviving veterans is declining. He claimed that not too long ago, he had a conversation with a man who worked as the ship’s machinist’s mate. But the one he may remember the most is a veteran of D-Day he met a few years ago.

“The thing he told me that I remember to this day is the anguish, the nerves, the (being) not sure if he was going to make it home,” he said. “I still get chills thinking about it.”

According to Burdette, the significance of wartime relics like LST-325 lies in their ability to preserve living historical accounts.

“You can watch documentaries and you can read it in books and see pictures and things like that, but it’s not until you’re on it, you’re smelling it, you’re walking on it, you’re touching it,” he said. “This is living history at its best. And I’m just very fortunate to be a part of it.”

According to Burdette, a few members of LST-325’s crew are in France for events commemorating the invasion’s 80th anniversary. He stated that on Saturday morning, the LST-325 Museum would host a ceremony within the ship that will include speeches and reenactments by US Navy commanders. The activities are free of charge and start at 10:30 a.m.

 

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