City plans impressive welcome for ‘the ship that won the war’
Bird’s-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. U.S. Maritime Commission photo. Library of Congress.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
It has been 79 years since Allied Forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. D Day - June 6, 1944 - would be the largest amphibious invasion in military history.
An estimated 29,000 Americans were killed during the invasion, and another 106,000 were wounded or missing, according to statistics gathered for Encyclopedia Brittannica.
It also turned the tide in the war against Germany.
Among the victims of that invasion was Hannibal native Arvil Mefford, son-in-law of E.L. Sparks, then publisher of the Hannibal Courier-Post. Mefford died the following September from wounds received on D Day.
Beginning on Friday, Sept. 15, the public will have the opportunity to examine a restored relic of the D-Day invasion, when the USS LST 325 Landing Ship docks on Hannibal’s riverfront for a three-day visit. Visitors may tour the ship from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Sept. 15-17.
History regarding this landing ship, as provided by the The USS LST 325 Ship Memorial Inc., “The LST 325 was one of the first to be built and it is the only operational LST in the United States. It was built in Philadelphia, Pa., by the U.S. Navy Shipyard. Other ships were built on the Illinois River at Seneca, Ill., on the Ohio River at two shipyards in Pittsburgh, in Jeffersonville and Evansville, Ind. Hundreds of these ships sailed on the rivers on their way to the Gulf of Mexico and to WWII. These shipyards were able to complete a ship every five days. Workers, welders, and equipment installers then boarded these vessels and completed the ship while it was en route down the Mississippi River. 1,051 LSTs were built in a little over three years. The United States never lost an invasion once the LSTs were designed, produced, and could land the big tanks right on the beach.”
During World War II, the LSTs carried soldiers, trucks, tanks, artillery, weapons, ammunition, food, supplies, bulldozers, cranes and locomotives. In addition, they were used to transport the wounded back to England from the beaches of Normandy. For this, the LST was labeled, “the ship that won the war.”
Friday’s opening ceremony in Hannibal will be befitting a war hero:
Trevor McDonald, sales manager for the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau, will serve as emcee. Both the American Legion Post 55 and VFW Post 2446 will be well represented, and Mike Dobson, mayor pro-tem, will present the ship’s captain with a proclamation and key to the city.
Roy Hark, former mayor of Hannibal and himself a U.S. Navy veteran, will be on hand to deliver a welcoming speech.
“Roy Hark tells great stories, and he’s so relatable.” McDonald said. He predicts that Hark “will treat the ceremony with great reverence, and will also get chuckles out of folks.”
Tom and Becky will be on hand to make a special presentation, and McKenzie Disselhorst will greet the boat’s captain on behalf of the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce.
The ship’s captain, Robert Kubota, will then address those gathered for the ceremony.
“I do think we will be drawing people from quite a distance,” McDonald said. “I’ve heard from veterans of other conflicts, and they share their excitement.” Individuals will be able to take self-guided tours each day. If school groups arrive, there will be chaperones to lead them.
When the ship recently docked in LaCross, Wis., they had an estimated 17,000 visitors, McDonald said.
This weekend, the ship is docked in Dubuque, Iowa.
A unique feature on Saturday, Sept. 16, will be the docking of the American Symphony, on the second day of the USS LST 325’s visit. The cargo ship will be on the South Dock, and the American Symphony will be on the North Dock.
“The passengers aboard the American Symphony have been invited to tour the cargo ship while in Hannibal,” McDonald said.
McDonald recently attended a tourism conference in Sedalia. “People were snapping pictures of the poster I brought. People are planning to attend from all corners of the state.
“I fully expect some really large crowds, (the Missouri Visitors and Convention Bureau) has been getting tremendous response. We expect it to be very, very popular every day the USS LST 325 is here,” he said.
While most of the LSTs have been scrapped, the 325 has been fully restored, and is home-ported in Evanston, Ind. That restoration work has been facilitated by The The USS LST 325 Ship Memorial Inc., and its has 2,000 members.
Press information from this organization notes: “After serving the United States well during WWII and for 10 years in the early 1950s, the LST 325 was reactivated again in 1963 and transferred to Greece in 1964. She served the Greek Navy until 1999, when she was again decommissioned. In 2000, she was acquired by the USS LST 325 Ship Memorial, Inc. through an act of Congress. This saved the LST 325 from going to the scrap yard in Souda Bay, Crete, Greece.
“All of her original equipment is still on board and working, including her 20mm and 40 mm anti-aircraft guns. Today, the ship looks just as it did when it came out of the shipyard in 1942. The restoration is nearly complete.”
,D Day news, the front page of the Emira New York, newspaper, Tuesday, June 6, 1944. newspapers com
The front page of The Quincy Herald-Whig, Tuesday evening, June 6, 1944.
Arvil Mefford of Hannibal, who died in September 1944 of injuries sustained during the D Day invasion. Photo contributed by his son, Robert Mefford.