Veterans set sail for Alabama

Associated Press

GIBRALTAR — All fueled up and bound for Alabama, 29 American war veterans — average age 72 — defied warnings and set off Tuesday to cross the Atlantic in an aging tank transport vessel with shaky steering and no safety equipment.

"Everything’s good. We’re all looking forward to the trip," Capt. Bob Jornlin said by phone shortly before the 58-year-old ship, known as the LST-325, departed from this British colony at Spain’s southern tip.

Despite Coast Guard warnings that the monthlong voyage is too dangerous, the veterans, who hail from 16 states, are hoping to fulfill a dream of steering the ship across the Atlantic and set up a floating museum once they reach Mobile, Ala., some 4,350 miles away on the Gulf of Mexico.

In a comradely gesture, sailors from the USS Arleigh Burke, a destroyer that docked Monday in Gibraltar, stood on deck and whistled farewell as the 328-foot-long LST-325 was tugged away from this promontory port at the western entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.

From dockside, a Gibraltar-based U.S. Liaison officer, Comm. Chris Melhuish, addressed the veterans, calling them "an inspiration to all. You bring out the traditional values of the U.S. Navy."

The vessel — an LST or landing ship, tank — was designed to land troops, tanks and other equipment directly onto a beach. It participated in the invasions of Sicily and Salerno and reached Normandy six days after D-Day in June 1944. It was decommissioned in 1946, put back into service in the Arctic in the 1950s, then lent to Greece in the 1960s. The United States LST Association has fought since the 1980s to repatriate it.

So far, the crew — made up of veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars — has sailed for 13 days from Greece to Gibraltar, where they arrived Nov. 30.

But the U.S. Coast Guard urged them not to go any farther.

The ship lacks adequate lifesaving equipment, its steering is questionable and the Atlantic is cold and stormy in December, Vice Adm. John Shkor, commander of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area Command, warned the crew in a letter recently. He said the ship should be towed or the trip postponed until its equipment problems and other matters have been resolved.

Another cause for concern is the health of the crew. One shipmate, identified on the ship’s Web site log as Bill Hart, became seriously ill while sailing from Greece and died after returning to the United States.

But the crew is determined and maintain that they and the LST are strong enough.

Log of the return voyage atc



Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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