WWII LST to set course for Madison
Saturday, September 07, 2013 5:00 AM
Life onboard a landing ship, tank - similar to the one that will visit Madison next week - is easy to imagine for Charlie Humphrey. The Madison native was assigned to USS LST-781 during World War II and was an active crew member during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
Bottom: World War II Navy veteran Charlie Humphrey is shown in the lower left corner of this group photo of crew members of the LST 781. He served on the ship 1944-45. Top: Humphrey holds one of his LST models. Humphrey has made four models of varying sizes out of whatever materials he has handy. He can point out all of the areas where he and his fellow sailors served on the ships during the war. Humphrey was involved in the Battle of Okinawa. His ship carried 126 sailors and officers. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchiefirstname.lastname@example.org.)
That was nearly seven decades ago and just one of the vessels that Humphrey served on before being honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, but his affinity for the LST has never wavered.
These days, he even keeps four LST models at his house - all handmade from memory - so he can better describe his time on the ship.
"Now I use them to tell my great-grandchildren what actually happened to me," he said.
Next week, he'll have another opportunity to share those stories and memories with his friends and family - only this time he can use a real-sized LST that also was instrumental in World War II.
The USS LST-325, a memorial vessel permanently docked in Evansville, will arrive in Madison at the city boat ramp on Wednesday and open for public tours Thursday.
It will be the first time the ship has docked and opened for tours in Madison. The ship is crewed by about 40 volunteers and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
LST-325, which launched in 1942 and was decommissioned for the final time in 1999, was used in the Normandy Landings at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. It now serves as a floating museum, though it commonly leaves its home port for cruises.
LSTs were designed to beach themselves in order to land battle-ready troops, vehicles, cargo and supplies to enemy beaches.
More than 1,000 of the ships were built for World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, but the LST-325 is one of the last navigation LSTs operating in the U.S.
It's that kind of history that intrigues Humphrey.
"People don't realize how much that ship did during the war. They were on the front lines," he said.
Humphrey has been onboard the LST-325 twice and actually gave impromptu tours of the ship when it visited Jeffersonville.
"It just so happened that I was there that day and the guy asked if I wanted to give a tour of it," he said.
"I'll probably be down there again giving tours," Humphrey joked.
Humphrey's experience on an LST came in the later parts of World War II in 1944. He boarded the LST-781 in Pittsburgh and actually rode through Madison - where his mother was waving from the shoreline.
From Madison, the crew traveled to Cairo, Ill., then down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and finally the Pacific Theater.
It was there that Humphrey found himself in the largest amphibious offensive in the Pacific during the war: The Battle of Okinawa.
During the invasion, the ship was under heavy fire from several Japanese dive bombers, one which it was credited for shooting down. That was the worst air raid Humphrey can remember while serving on the vessel, which only kept 126 enlisted men and officers. He served as a yeoman.
"You could reach out and touch (the planes)," Humphrey recalled.
After the invasion, Humphrey was assigned to a communications ship, but he maintained a love for the LST for the rest of his service and well beyond. He said the LST felt like a tight-knit community.
"I had a lot of fun. Those guys are just like family to me," he said.
Daily tours of LST-325 will be available at $10 for adults, $5 for those between ages 6 and 17, and $20 for a family of two adults and two children. Children 5 and younger are free.
Tours are about 45 minutes long. Onboard, patrons can see the main deck, troop berthing, tank deck, mess deck, galley, guns and anchor, wheel house, officer's quarters and the captain's cabin.
Tours will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Guests are allowed to take pictures at any point during the tour.