MARIETTA - The last time Henry Winland saw a Navy LST, he was 21 and riding one across the English Channel to France to make war.
That was 1944.
On Wednesday, Winland, 87, of Woodsfield, Ohio, and many others with ties to the historic vessels, gathered on the levee at Marietta to watch the last intact, operational LST in the United States pull into dock.
Photo by Brad Bauer
The USS LST-325 arrives at Marietta just before noon on Wednesday.
"I'm sure that's the one I rode on," said Winland, a World War II U.S. Army veteran. "It was my job to get all of the vehicles ready for invasion. They're amphibious vehicles; we called them ducks because they ran on roads and water both. But that ship held a lot. It was nothing to have 20 Sherman tanks on the deck."
As the 328-foot-long, 50-foot-wide USS LST-325 pulled into Marietta on Wednesday, the ship fired several rounds from its cannons and then launched two of the so-called "ducks" into the water, delighting the hundreds of people who gathered on shore to watch its arrival.
The ship participated in the D-Day invasion, the largest amphibious assault in history and the start of the long-awaited Allied invasion of France during World War II. The LST is scheduled to remain in Marietta until Wednesday.
Tours will be available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Friday to Tuesday. Tours after 5 p.m. can be arranged by special appointment. Tours cost $10 for adults or $20 for a family.
The ship is moored just below the Lafayette Hotel on the Ohio River, near the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. It is set to leave Wednesday for Evansville, Ind., where it is kept as part of an LST museum.
U.S. Navy veteran Harry Hoover, 68, of Cleveland said he had been planning a trip to Evansville to see the ship before he learned it would be in Marietta this week.
"It's only about three hours to Marietta, and I was looking at almost eight hours to get to Evansville, so this is great," he said. Hoover said he served several months aboard an LST during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Seeing the ship brought back memories of hot and humid days aboard his ship, the USS LST 533.
"They would starch our uniforms, and we would put them away in our lockers and a few hours later they would be soggy," he said. "There was no AC. If it was 90 degrees outside, it was 100 degrees inside. It was hot."
Hoover said he worked as a gunfire controlman aboard his LST.
"I was also a part-time deck aid. There was a lot of painting and chipping," he said.
At 94 years old, George Robart of North Canton, Ohio, was among the oldest LST veterans to watch the ship power into Marietta.
"I was 27 when they came and got me," he said. "I didn't want to go, but the Navy took me anyway."
Robart said he served 18 months aboard an LST in the Pacific theater during the second World War.
"As I was watching this one come down the river, I kept thinking it looked awful small. But as it got closer it was actually bigger than I remembered it," he said. "I haven't seen one since I left mine when they cut me loose."
John Adams, 86, also of North Canton, said he was 20 years old when he and about 1,000 other troops stormed a European beach from an LST.
"This is the first one I've seen since 1944," he said.
Adams described storming the beach under heavy artillery fire and wondering if or how he would survive.
"It's a strange feeling looking at one of these again," he said. "I lost three close friends that day. I never thought I would see one of these again."