CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A piece of living history is moored for the weekend at Charleston’s Haddad Riverfront Park. The fully restored LST 325 is open and available for tours all weekend in the Capital City. The 70 year old vessel ferried equipment out of Africa and was part of the invasions of Sicily, Salerno, and the Normandy invasion.
“This ship took Patton’s officers into the beach at Sicily,” said Captain Bob Jornlin of Earlville, Illinois. “It didn’t take Patton, we missed out on that.”
The 325 was instrumental in helping establish a beach head during the D-Day invasion on the coast of France.
“It was right there when things were pretty hot,” Jornlin said. “This had a torpedo fired under the bow, but it was set too deep. Guys watched it pass under and hit a destroyer on the other side.”
The LST ships were workhorses of the war. They were equipped to transport tanks, vehicles, guns, supplies and troops.
“You could load trucks and everything else on board and the elevator would lift the trucks up on the main deck,” said Sidney Hood, 91, of North Carolina who made the trip up to tour the ship.
Hood served on an LST in the Pacific during World War II. He admitted the last time he was on one, things were quite different.
“Everybody was on a gun,” he laughed. “We traded some steaks to a bunch of Army guys in New Guinea for some 40 mm truck mounted guns and mounted those on the main deck. When a kamikaze would come in we’d throw up so many tracers we’d turn the sky red and they’d peel off and look for an easier target.”
Erwin Kuhns of Lesserville, Ohio is today part of the crew of LST 325. When he was 17 he boarded an identical ship in Jeffersonville, Indiana and lived there for three years touring most of the South Pacific. He served as a coxswain for the smaller Higgins boats which launched from the LST.
“We worked worked with the Marines the whole time,” said Kuhns. “I took the third wave into Iwo Jima with the 5th Marines. Then after that we went to Okinawa and did that, then went through the war.”
LST stands for “Landing Ship Tank”, but Kuhns said they had a different name for it during the war.
“Large slow target,” he laughed. “That’s what a lot of guys called them because running wide open you’d be doing about ten miles an hour.”
LST 325 was salvaged from Greece. A group of volunteers pooled their money to save it from a scrap yard and sailed it back to the United States and had it fully restored. Today it travels around the country offering tours and history lessons about the role the LST’s played in winning World War II.
“We like having the school groups come on board,” Jornlin said. “The younger generation needs to understand, freedom isn’t free.”