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D-Day landing ship now calls Evansville home

Indiana built key tool for D-Day landings

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Eighty years ago Thursday, the decks of the LST-325 were a very different place.

Built in Philadelphia two years earlier, LST-325 had already taken part in the Italy landings at Sicily and Salerno, according to the people who now maintain her. On the morning of June 6, 1944, she was among what Allied and Axis witnesses alike described as a wall of ships blanketing the waters of the English Channel as far as the eye could see. Soldiers gathered their equipment from bunks belowdecks while tanks and trucks sat in her hold. Her destination was a crescent-shaped stretch of sand soon to be seared into American memory as Bloody Omaha.

“If anything, there’s a lot of nerves going on,” Museum Operations Coordinator Cory Burdette said of that morning. “These guys are probably feeling a bunch of different emotions, including fear, probably regrets. As soon as they get the call, they get ready.”

Among the roughly 4,100 landing craft taking part, the Landing Ship, Tanks like LST-325 were behemoths. More than 300 feet long and displacing up to 4,000 tons, they carried the Allies’ heaviest armored vehicles and helped launch the Higgins boats that carried the soldiers to shore. The LSTs themselves had ramps to allow vehicles to drive from their decks directly onto a beach, no pier required.

The people of Evansville would have recognized LST-325 at once. Burdette said more than 22,000 people built 167 ships just like her at the Evansville shipyard, more than any other shipyard in the war. He said those workers worked around the clock. They came from all over the Tri-State area. Nearly half of them were women.

“These people are working themselves to the bone to make sure that these get done correctly but also get done quickly,” he said.

Burdette said it was too dangerous for the LSTs to land directly on the beaches that day, so the soldiers would have climbed down rope ladders onto Higgins boats launched from the side of the ship. Burdette said there are no records of exactly what LST-325 carried that day but it’s likely her vast tank deck would have been used as a makeshift floating hospital. Department of Defense numbers show the 1st and 29th Infantry divisions suffered a combined total of 2,400 killed and wounded on Omaha Beach, nearly as many as the other four D-Day beaches combined. She might also have carried captured German soldiers.

Burdette said the ship made her first cargo drop directly on the beach on June 8. She spent the rest of the war ferrying cargo back and forth across the Channel, eventually visiting all of the D-Day beaches except Sword Beach. The ship was eventually sold to the Hellenic Navy before she was brought back to the United States in 2001. She has been in Evansville since 2005. Burdette said the ship is one of just two LSTs in the United States still in World War II configuration and the only one that’s still operational. Museum staff still take her out on cruises around the country every year, something he said they will continue to do as long as they can.

Even as the number of living WWII veterans dwindles, Burdette said the ship still gets visitors who served in the conflict. He said not long ago, he talked to a man who served as a machinist’s mate aboard the ship. Perhaps the one he remembers most, though, is a D-Day veteran he met several years ago.

“The thing he told me that I remember to this day is the anguish, the nerves, the (being) not sure if he was going to make it home,” he said. “I still get chills thinking about it.”

Burdette said the value of surviving artifacts from the war such as LST-325 is that they are living history.

“You can watch documentaries and you can read it in books and see pictures and things like that, but it’s not until you’re on it, you’re smelling it, you’re walking on it, you’re touching it,” he said. “This is living history at its best. And I’m just very fortunate to be a part of it.”

Burdette said some of LST-325’s staff are in France for ceremonies there marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. He said the LST-325 Museum will hold its own ceremony aboard the ship on Saturday morning, featuring reenactors and speeches by U.S. Navy officers. The events begin at 10:30 a.m. and are free of charge.

Below, LST-325 is shown June 6, 2024, in Evansville, Indiana. (WISH Photos/Garrett Bergquist via X)

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