Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

August 4, 2013

USS LST 325 TO VISIT ASHLAND

World War II ship landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day

ASHLAND — A piece of U.S. Navy history will land at the Port of Ashland in September, giving local residents an opportunity to tour a living history museum.

The 328-foot USS LST 325, a World War II Tank Landing Ship, will dock at Ashland's riverfront park on Sept. 4.  It will open for public tours on Sept. 5, which will continue through Sept. 9.

The LST is an amphibious vessel designed to land battle-ready tanks on enemy shores. When the ship stops in Ashland, visitors will be able to enter the belly of the vessel through those large bow doors where the tanks and troops landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day passed on June 6, 1944.

Now owned and operated by the nonprofit LST Memorial Inc., the USS LST 325 is a living memorial “dedicated to all LST’s and those who sailed them,” according to its website.  It is the only remaining operational LST in the United States out of the 1,051 constructed during the war and was rescued from a Greek scrap yard in 1999.

 Built at a shipyard in Philadelphia, the shallow-hulled vessels were able to carry 20 Sherman tanks in their large internal tank decks along with up to 500 soldiers, tons of fuel, ammunition, supplies and 30 to 40 additional vehicles, including ambulance and jeeps on main deck.  

Prior to Normandy, the LST325 served in two other World War II invasion campaigns at Sicily and Salerno, Italy. After D-Day the The LST325 made 44 trips across the English Channel carrying vehicles and supplies to France, while returning to England with wounded soldiers and prisoners of war.

After being decommissioned in 1964, it was sold to Greece where it served that country’s Navy from 1964 to 1999. At that time, it was rescued from a scrap yard by the non-profit and repatriated to the U.S. in 2001.

It formally opened as a touring museum in 2003 and is the only former U.S. combat ship that actively cruises to U.S. cities via river, said Perry Ballinger, one of 40 crewmembers and the secretary of its board of directors. Ballinger approached Ashland officials about bringing the ship to Ashland in August while on its annual tour.

The USS LST325 has a permanent home in Evansville, Ind., the site of one of three former WWII ship yard where LST vessels were constructed, but takes a four to six week cruise each year, he said. The LST325 will pass Ashland en route to Charleston where it will dock Aug. 3 to Sept. 3, before returning to Ashland Sept. 4. It will then make subsequent stops in Madison, Ind., and then Owensboro.

On its way upriver, Ballinger said the LST325, which has 40 mm guns equipped to fire blanks may play “Anchors Aweigh,” the Navy’s Anthem and “fire a few guns” when it passes Ashland.

In addition to the LST325, a Vietnam-era river PBR river patrol boat, which used LST ships as home bases in the Mekong Delta, will accompany the LST325 to Ashland. Two landing craft attached to the side of the LST 325 are also operational and may give demonstrations during the stay in Ashland, said Ballinger.

City officials said they were “very excited,” to welcome the ship to Ashland and are working to plan some opening ceremonies at the riverfront.

“Once the city was approached about the opportunity and decided our riverfront had the capability to handle that, we wanted to welcome them and do all we could,” said Ashland’s Director of Parks and Recreation Sean Murray. “That is a great use of our riverfront,” he said.

Ashland Area Visitors and Convention Bureau Director Sue Dowdy said the nonprofit approached Ashland about docking here. “We are extremely excited about it,” said Dowdy, noting her father served in the Navy and has a personal interest in the crafts used during the era. “It’s a great educational thing,” she said.

Dowdy said the planned mooring in Ashland has inspired her office to work to attract other touring watercraft to visit at Ashland.

The LST 325 will be open  from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 5 through 9 at the Port of Ashland. Visitors may tour the main deck, troop berthing, mess deck, galley, stern of ship where the guns and anchor are located, in addition to the wheel house, officers country and the captain’s cabin. The tour includes three sets of stairs and self-guided.

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for ages 6 through 17. Children under five are free. A family admission price of $20 covers two adults and two minor children. Special rates and guided tours are available for school groups.

For more information, visit lstmemorial.org.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.

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