As a part of an annual tour to different cities in the country, the LST-325 docked in Clarksville at McGregor Riverwalk Park on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. The boat is the last fully-operational WWII landing ship tank. The LST earned two battle stars, commendations durng combat, launching on Oct. 27, 1942.
Since then, the ship participated in the invasion of Sicily, and was part of the largest armada in history sailing towards the beaches of Normandy. 1,051 landing ship tanks set sail for WWII alone. Winston Churchill called it “the ship that won the war.” In 1964, the ship joined the Hellenic Navy as a part of a loan program to aid Greece until 1999. Like many of her class, she was not named by the U.S. Navy. However, the tank was identified as “Syros” by her Greek owners.
In 2001, a group of retired military men acquired “Syros.” Their motive was the longing of recognition. President of the Memorial affairs and Navy Veteran John Talent spoke on their mission.
“The ex-amphibious sailors wanted something to recognize and symbolize their service,” Talent said, “so they searched everywhere until finding this beauty.” The group of gentlemen who returned the LST-325 from Greece back to the U.S. had the average age of 72. The tank originally docked in Evansville, Indiana because of its rich indirect connection to the area.
“Now, this ship was not built in Evansville,” Talent said. “171 of her sisters were, so we pay respect. It also helps that Indiana is just a great host.”
The LST-325 Memorial is a non-profit 501 organization that has a fully functioning volunteer group of 45 men and women who sleep and eat on board, sailing 24 hours a day, at 8-10 mph.
Talent spoke on the ship’s significance to his life and its connection to the community.
“Most all other ships docked encourage travel from people all over the world,” Talent said. “We are different. We go out to the community. We come to you.”
On “good” days, President John Talent alluded to having about 3,600-4,000 people visit the ship. He said the money that comes in, helps with repairs. Being preserved in operating condition the LST is no easy task. The ship has two major work periods that amount to about 38,000 volunteer hours.
The interior of the battleship is kept in the most original condition possible, with some minor repairs made to keep up with modern technology. From the bunks and kitchen setups to the fully functional cannons, the LST-325 is the closest thing many veterans have to their past.
For Talent, the ship is a piece of what he called “home” for years serving in the Navy in similar crafts. Likewise, Vietnam Veteran Joe Hassel toured the ship having a personal connection.
“It’s overwhelming” Hassel said. “These tours get me every time.”
When asked about his battleship experience, Hassel said “the beds were our favorite.”
The members of the USS LST Memorial organization said they cater to the community. With a polite, fully volunteered staff diverse with rich personal connections and knowledgeable information, any visitor on board for the tour enters a treasure trove of history.
From transporting brave souls to storm the beaches of Normandy, arriving on June 7, 1944, to making 44 trips back and forth to collect supplies and soldiers, the memorial is true “dime piece,” Talent said. He also spoke on the historical significance of having the LST-325 up and running for public visitation.
“If you just watch the news, you would think the world was ending tonight” Talent said, “but seeing people light up, visiting this small floating village voluntarily with their families, restores my faith.”
The landing ship tank is a floating reminder of the service of men and women around the world, a tribute to their sacrifice and dedication both to their country and the world, as the ship docked in the flat murky waters of Clarksville for all to see.