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Evansville: Meet WWII’s workhorse

Courtesy LST 325

During World War II, Evansville’s riverfront bustled. At a shipyard that stretched for a mile along the Ohio River, 167 LSTs (Landing Ship, Tanks) were built in two and a half years.

That stretch of riverfront, southwest of downtown, is fairly quiet today, but around the bend, east of town, visitors can board and tour an LST, a transport ship considered the workhorse of the Navy. LST 325 has been docked in the city since 2005, returned to the United States through the toil of a group of Navy veterans who, at an average age of 72, sailed the ship from Greece, where it had served in the Greek navy.

The “ancient mariners’” aim was to save one of the ships upon which they served so that future generations could understand its importance. The ship and its attached visitors center/minimuseum are the USS LST Ship Memorial. The attraction is open for tours and available for special events.

“It is the only LST in operation in its original condition,” said Kellen Alexander, a tour guide. “Ninety percent of the boat works — not the guns, though.”

The weather deck, where jeeps, supply trucks and other vehicles were parked bumper to bumper as they were transported during the war, can now serve as a spacious event venue for anything from Veterans Day dinners to political campaign receptions. Dinners can also be held below in a massive hold where 40 Sherman tanks could be stowed for transport.

With a top speed of 8 miles per hour, the LST was not the fleetest of the fleet. Sailors jokingly said its acronym really stood for Low Slow Target.

But despite its lumbering pace, the flat-bottomed LST did exactly what it was designed to do. It slid onto undeveloped shores and delivered men and equipment to battle. Among LST 325s’ landings was Omaha Beach.

Many say without the LST, the Allies would not have won the war.

“They are how the Allies finally made headway,” said Alexander. The heavy guard given the LSTs signaled just how important they were. “It was the second most protected ship, after aircraft carriers,” said Alexander.