CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- St. Albans resident and U.S. Navy veteran Robert Harris admits he has nothing to do with the group of volunteers who keep a World War II landing ship plying up and down the nation's waterways.
But when Harris saw LST 325, a floating war memorial and museum, in Marietta, Ohio, a few years ago he decided he had to convince the crew to bring the historic vessel to West Virginia.
"It's an ocean-going ship," said Harris, who is familiar with LSTs from his service in the Navy from 1950 to 1954.
"How often do we get an ocean-going ship in Charleston?"
Harris gets his wish over Labor Day weekend, when the historic ship will dock in Charleston from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3.
LST 325 is a Landing Ship, Tank, a ship designed in the early days of World War II specifically to carry big loads of tanks, trucks, men and supplies across the ocean all the way to an enemy beach. American and British planners knew the big vessels would be vital in landing an invading army and keeping it supplied in the precarious opening stages of a major amphibious operation.
"The LSTs were the ones that could make an invasion work," said Capt. Bob Jornlin, skipper of the all-volunteer crew of LST 325. "They could come in and land Sherman tanks on the beach and not need a dock and not need a crane."
LSTs could load and unload through a set of massive hinged doors built into the bow of the ship. More than 300 feet long, an LST could carry dozens of tanks and trucks and hundreds of troops, and their ability to operate in very shallow water allowed them to come right up to the beach.
More than 1,000 of the vessels would be built by the United States, Canada and Great Britain during the war.
Jornlin, 74, served on LSTs during the Vietnam War. He said the vessels were vital during World War II for ferrying equipment, supplies and troops to the war zones, and in bringing wounded men out of the combat zone for treatment. The ships even had their own operating rooms to help save the lives of soldiers too badly wounded to survive the ship ride to safety.
LST 325 was built in Philadelphia and launched in 1942. The ship took part in the invasion of Sicily in 1943, and was part of the massive armada that invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944.
"You stand on the deck of something that was at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time I think about it," Jornlin said.
On her first trip to the D-Day beaches, LST 325 carried 59 vehicles, 31 officers and 408 troops. Between the invasion of Normandy and the end of the war in Europe, LST 325 made 44 trips across the English Channel, hauling everything from troops and wounded to fuel and supplies.
It was on her way to the Pacific Theater when Japan surrendered in August of 1945.
LST 325 wound up in the Greek Navy, where it served until decommissioned in 1999. A group of dedicated former LST crewmen found the old ship at a scrap yard in Crete, slowly rusting away, and decided to save it.