Even warships need a little TLC.
USS LST-325, one of the most prominent examples of Evansville’s World War II contributions, left its dock at 610 N.W. Riverside Drive on Jan. 14 for a one-week voyage to the Port of Port Arthur, Texas, to undergo a Coast Guard inspection. Required every 10 years for operational ships, the LST’s last inspection was in 2013.
Chris Donahue, director of the LST Ship Memorial Inc., says the organization saves money accrued from annual trips to fund this maintenance. He says the LST is “in pretty good shape for an 80-year-old gal” and is expected to get “a good report card” during the inspection. The ship is estimated to return home by March 15.
With a budget of $1.5 million for all dry dock work in 2024, the LST — or Landing Ship Tank — departed Evansville with a 40-person crew for Port Arthur, one of the only ports with a dry dock large enough to handle such an inspection. The dry dock resembles a barge open on each end with two high walls on each side. The LST is positioned over the dry dock after it moves to the center of the channel and is partially sunk before being refloated, lifting the ship for inspections.
The inspection includes an examination of LST’s ballast for thickness of steel. The LST also requires an inspection of its seven-foot propellers — weighing 1,500 pounds each — and work on its bow doors, plus a full paint job. The ship’s electronics also will be expected.
Of an initial crew of 40, only 10 remain at Port Arthur to complete smaller projects; LST-325 ship operations manager Jerry Wirth is among them. He describes a trip south plagued with bitterly cold weather, testing the ship’s energy capacity. Temperatures warmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, just in the nick of time when LST-325 passed by the USS Kidd, a Fletcher-class destroyer that saw action in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.
“In all honesty, I seldom knew where we were because I had one duty — to make sure this ship kept moving safely towards its destination. I was aware, though, when we sailed past the USS Kidd,” Wirth says of the vessel, which doubles as a veterans museum. “Most took the opportunity to brave slightly warmer weather and view the Kidd as we passed by. As our wake washed against her, I am sure that many pondered the shared legacy between us so close in distance yet across a vast expanse of time. It is a sobering reminder as to why we give our time and efforts to this mission: the legacy of others.”
Now that the LST has reached its destination, Wirth says the crew is settling into the daily rhythm aboard the ship, with 900 horsepower diesel engines constantly sounding. They will call Port Arthur’s shipyard home for the next five weeks.
“When the full crew departs the ship, there is a noticeable lag in the activity and noises aboard the ship,” says Wirth.
Wirth describes rainy conditions, but morning is greeted by breakfast from crewmember and chef John Jones. Eight to 10 hours a day are spent planning meetings, removing fuel and liquid, and performing physical inspections with the Gulf Copper marine repair team, which reports the ship is in better shape than many 10-year-old ships serviced at Port Arthur — LST-325 turns 81 on Feb. 1, 2024.
The crew also enjoys off-boat excursions for food and supplies. In five weeks, the other 30 members — who were bused back to Evansville when the ship docked — will travel back to Texas to help steer the ship’s return home.
“We are early in the evaluation process, so no surprises. But knowing this ship as I do, there will be more stories to come,” Wirth says.