May 31, 1945, LST-325 sailed into Norfolk, ending her long journey through some of the bloodiest beachheads of World War II. Sixty years later, just four hours short of that same date, LST-325 sailed out of Alexandria on her tour as the USS LST Ship Memorial honoring those who served and died aboard these amphibian craft during the last world war.
Crewed by LST (Landing Ship, Tank) veterans of World War II, Korea and Viet Nam, LST-325 docked at Robinson Terminal, at the Potomac River terminus of Oronoco Street, May 26. At 10 a.m. May 27 Mayor William D. Euille was presented with "the keys to the bow doors" by Captain Robert D. Jorlin and participated in a memorial wreath-laying ceremony.
"These keys are something our enemies would have loved to get their hands on. I am very happy to present them to you and your city," Jorlin said.
"My father and grandfather served in World War II. And just one year ago I visited Normandy to attend the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings," Euille told the assembled crowd of ship's crew, visitors, and members of City Council.
"This ship is a memorial, not only to D-Day but to all who served in World War II. We can never forget your sacrifice and bravery for protecting America. We want you to enjoy your visit here in Alexandria," Euille said.
Making a rare journey from its home port of Mobile, Ala., LST-325 is on a 46-day cruise up the east coast. As the only stop in the mid-Atlantic region, it docked in Alexandria in honor of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
BUILT at the Philadelphia, Pa., navy yard in 1942 and commissioned in 1943, the 328-foot landing craft was designed to land tanks and other heavy equipment as well as troops and supplies onto enemy beaches under battle conditions. LST-325's crew performed that task not only on D-Day but also at Sicily and Solerno during the Italian campaign.
Following D-Day, LST-325 made over 40 trips back and forth across
the English Channel ferrying supplies, equipment and personnel to
support the Allied invasion. On Dec. 28, 1944 LST-325 help rescue more than 700 men from the troop transport Javelin that had been torpedo off the coast of France.
"One thousand and fifty-one LSTs were built for World War II. Actually, it was Churchill's idea to get heavy equipment to the beachhead. If the German's had had LSTs they probably could have successfully invaded Great Britain," Jorlin said.
"After unloading our cargo we usually loaded on the wounded to be returned either to land-based hospitals or to hospital ships off shore. We even transported prisoners of war in the tank deck," he said.
"During the war it had a crew of 100 enlisted men and 10 officers and could transport 200 troops plus equipment," said the World War II veteran, who commanded her return to Alabama from Greece in 2000. He headed a volunteer veteran crew of 29 with an average age of 72.
Following several decommissionings and reactivations during the Korean Conflict, Cold War, and Viet Nam, LST-325 was sold to Greece in 1964 to become part of that Navy. It was renamed Syros L-144 and served until December 1999. In 2000 she was acquired by the USS Ship Memorial, Inc., through an act of Congress.
POWERED BY two 900-horsepower diesel engines and sailing at an average speed of 12 knots, it took nearly 60 days to make the 6,200 mile voyage from Crete, according to Jorlin. But, that included a two week lay-over in Gibraltar for major repairs needed after 13 days in the Mediterranean Sea.
"This ship has been in almost continuous service since it was first commissioned. There were 27 lost during World War II, a couple on D-Day. When fully loaded they have a draft of six feet in the bow and 12 feet aft," Jorlin said.
Most all the equipment aboard is World War II vintage except for modern computer equipment and some personal amenities such as washing machines and dryers. "The communications equipment is World War II. It was donated to us by wives of former LST crewmen who had it stowed in closets at home," he said.
Two of those wives were staffing the souvenir tables just below the con-deck. USS Memorial Ship, Inc., is primarily dependent on donations, tour fees, and souvenir sales to support its operations and restorations. Admission during the Alexandria visit was $10 for adults and $5 for children through age 18.
"I come to work when they're in port. I'm going to follow the ship for the rest of the tour by car. Only men are allowed on board when it's not in port," said Lois Jorlin, the captain's wife. She was joined by Judy Spencer, wife of Bill Spencer, another veteran, serving in the engineering section.
Expenses can be very high particularly in this time of rising fuel costs. "This trip will cost about $65,000 in fuel even though we got a very good price at $1.47 per gallon," Jorlin said. Money for the fuel was donated by Shell and Mobile oil companies, according to Jorlin.
However, the dock fee at Robinson Terminal was a different case. "They are charging us $12,000 for the use of the pier. It was going to be $18,000 but they said they'd give us a break. That includes Alexandria police security which we didn't feel we needed," Jorlin told Euille during the mayor's tour of the ship.
ON MEMORIAL DAY, so many people wanted to tour the vintage craft they had to cut off the line in order to allow time to prepare for their departure. "We considered staying another day but Robinson Terminal said that would cost an additional $1,800," he said.
Euille, expressing surprise at the charges during a Memorial Day visit honoring American veterans, told Jorlin he would explore the possibility of reimbursing the Memorial Ship for some of those expenses.
Crew members sign on for either the entire cruise or segments. Even though they are all volunteers, they are required to pay $10 per day room and board for each day of working on board. This is in addition to their out-of-pocket expenses for travel, uniforms, and, in some cases, vacation time from work for those not retired.
Bruce Voges, 79, from Oakwood, ILL., was one of the crew who "brought her back from Greece. I haven't been able to get divorced from her yet," he said.
Voges served on LSTs during three invasions in the Pacific Theater. "I was at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Iheya Shima," he said. "But this will probably be my last voyage. Unless the movie about LST-325 happens. There have been rumors but nothing definite."
Voges spent 21 years in the U.S. Navy, enlisting in 1943 at age 17 and retiring at age 38. "I also ran landing boats during those invasions. It was very exciting," he said. During the Korean Conflict he served on a Navy destroyer.
Following his military career, Voges became a banker in the Evansville, Ind., area. His two sons, age 50 and 43, both Illinois police officers were part of this trip's crew.
Sid Hisel of Georgetown, Ky., joined the crew when LST-325 arrived in Alexandria. He will remain through their Boston visit.
"During World War II, I served on LST-1132 then converted to an ARL, Amphibious Repair Ship. We did repairs to ships at sea. We had a complement of 240 crew members," he said.
"I joined when I was 17 and was in for two years during the war. It was quite an experience for a farm boy that had never ventured more than 20 miles from home. But, it was wonderful experience," Hisel said.
"I got involved with this ship in January 2000. My wife and I were on a trip to Florida in our RV and heard about the ship in Mobile. We went to see it and then headed home," he said.
"When we heard they needed help in restoring her, we loaded up the RV and went back down. I've been volunteering ever since. There's a lot of people that have put their heart and soul into this vessel," Hisel said.
A list of those who died while serving on LSTs was on display. As stated in their explanatory brochure, given to every visitor: "The Memorial Board has one goal: to be able to sail the ship under its own power — up the inland rivers, and along the coast; allowing all to set foot on her decks — and to become a museum and learning tool for all ages."