A rusting relic from World War II sailed into port in Mobile, Ala., with a jubilant crew of elderly veterans last Wednesday after a month-long trans-Atlantic voyage that the Coast Guard warned was too dangerous to attempt.
"Bravery is ageless," Bill Shannon, a veteran from Fort Worth, Texas, said as the naval vessel LST-325 arrived to a celebration.
The 29-member crew, average age 72, was made up mostly of veterans from World War II and the Korean War. The 328-foot vessel was one of dozens of amphibious ships used to deliver troops, tanks and other military vehicles to shore during the wars. Formally known as landing ship tanks, their nickname was "Large Slow Targets."
LST-325, which delivered troops to Normandy during the D-Day invasion, will become a museum honoring the ships and their crews.
"This is the greatest thing I've ever done in my life, but I wouldn't do it again for all the world," said crewman Jim Edwards of Canton, Texas. "I like to have froze."
The veterans left Greece on Nov. 17 and crossed the Mediterranean in 11 days despite two storms and equipment problems. One man suffered heart problems and left for home, dying after he arrived in the United States. The crew was at sea continuously after leaving Gibraltar on Dec. 12.
The Coast Guard had warned the crew against trying to cross the Atlantic during the stormy winter months, citing the ship's lack of safety equipment, its questionable steering, and uncertainty about the crew's ability to respond to emergencies.
The crew rejected the advice. Capt. Robert Jornlin of Earlville, Ill., described the voyage as fairly smooth, though there were steering problems and rough, cold weather off the Florida Keys in the final week. A failed engine also took 10 hours to repair. And in the Bahamas last week, divers had to fix a hole the size of a silver dollar in the bow.
The ship was built in 1942. It was decommissioned in 1946, loaned to the Greek government in 1964 and taken out of service last summer. Congress passed a bill authorizing Greece to turn it over for use as a memorial.
Crew members paid their own way to Greece and donated $2,000 to help cover expenses. The rehabilitation of the boat was extensive, with work on the engine, leaks and other problems.
"We thought our main problem was to get this ship back from the Greeks, but lately we have been fighting with another group as to who will control this vessel: The deck house can be rightly called Cockroach Hotel," according to a captain's log entry from August.
The toilets were astoundingly bad. "Forget about gleaming white porcelain. The appearance of ours would shock a skid row resident. They defy cleaning," the log said. One commode leaked on deck.
But despite it all, the crew made it.
"We're certainly delighted that they safely completed the voyage despite our warnings," Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Brendan McPherson said. "It's a great moment in history."
Association and the logbook
of the LST-325's voyage are available online.