Below is a newspaper article from the Sunday, July 3, Evansville Courier & Press about my month as a crewmember on LST 325. I cut and pasted it because I know some have trouble pulling up links. I hope this honors the exceptional men of LST 325 -- at least that was my intention.
Teacher discovers LST crew 'is a cut above' during month on board
By BYRON ROHRIG Courier & Press staff writer 464-7426 or email@example.com
July 3, 2005
Mike Whicker had a lot to say about what he did and what he learned during his month as a crewman aboard LST 325. But he kept coming back to the other 37 crewmen - most of them septuagenarians, some in their 80s - he served with on the Washington-to-Boston leg of the World War II ship's summer voyage.
What kind of people were they? A story.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who declared June 19 "LST 325 Day" in the city, came aboard ship that day, met the crew, and, as a welcoming gesture, offered them free box seats at Fenway Park to see the world-champion Red Sox play. This in a city where those who can't buy tickets to a game against the backdrop of the famous "Green Monster" have been going to New York and Baltimore to see their team. One crewman said no, he was a St. Louis Cardinals fan. No, said another, the Minnesota Twins are my team. In the end, not a single crew member took Menino up on the deal.
"These guys," noted Whicker, "aren't worried about tact."
Officials working for Clint Eastwood and the movie "Flags of Our Fathers" (where LST 325 will figure importantly) approached Capt. Robert Jornlin. Used to people "falling all over themselves because they are movie people," said Whicker, they requested urgently that Jornlin undock the ship June 15 so two Higgins boats, brought along to be delivered for shipping to a filming site in Iceland, could be delivered that day to a nearby shipping point. The boatswain (Jornlin's second-in-command), 80-year-old Bruce Voges, suggested that would be wasted effort: The ship was scheduled to depart for Gloucester on Monday, he said, so why not deliver them then? Jornlin agreed. The movie guys waited.
"I call the men of LST 325 'a cut above,' " Whicker said. "Most guys in their 80s are content to be in a rocking chair. These guys are out sailing the seven seas."
Another insight into the crew came in Whicker's description of Lauren Whiting, from Lauren, N.Y. Now 82, Whiting served aboard an LST during the war. He is a member of the engine crew, and he would emerge from duty every morning this summer, covered in grease. Whiting is of Whiting Door Manufacturing Corp., a multimillionaire whose name appears countless times on any highway trip, inscribed on the rear doors of tractor-trailers. "Yet he takes two months out of his year to roll around in a greasy engine room," Whicker said.
And, he added, Whiting works alongside crew members who are struggling to get by on Social Security. "It's like on a football team - rich kids, poor kids ... doesn't matter. On the field, everyone's the same."
Jornlin, who during the voyage decided he will not allow LST 325 to be towed to Iceland for filming because risk to the ship is too great, is "the perfect captain for LST 325," Whicker said. The refusal, at the boatswain's suggestion, to honor the movie crew's request to special-deliver the Higgins boats was a change of plans by Jornlin. "He certainly can make a firm decision when he has to, but he listens and is not afraid to change if someone comes up with something better."
It was Jornlin who helped spearhead a move to acquire the deactivated ship from Greece, heading a 29-man crew that sailed the vessel back to the United States in December 2000 and January 2001. He now heads USS LST Ship Memorial Inc., the nonprofit that owns the ship.
The summer voyage, scheduled to conclude Monday with LST 325's temporary return to Mobile, Ala., wasn't a pleasure cruise, Whicker said. "I lost 20 pounds in a month and three belt notches," Whicker said last week after his June 24 return. "Sleep was a big problem - nobody on the crew gets enough sleep," he said. The 38 crewmen were serving on a ship where a full crew consisted of 110. Thus, Whicker's daily sleep ration came from 9 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., when he arose to take 4 a.m. watch.
Though "an old Air Force guy," he learned a lot on the World War II ship that in early autumn will claim Evansville as her new home port. Prior to going aboard at Alexandria, Va., which faces Washington, D.C., from across the Potomac, Whicker anticipated he'd be scrubbing the deck. He was correct, but so did the other 37 crew members, most of them in their 70s and 80s. Whicker, to his surprise, also did a little of essentially every job on ship - as did the other crew members. That included helming, or steering the vessel: "I learned lots about navigation that I didn't have a clue about before. How to distinguish things on a radar screen, degree changes, figuring out how far out the horizon was, reading gyrocompasses ..." He also took turns at chipping paint - the ship "is like the Golden Gate Bridge: You never get finished painting it."
If you're wondering how the ship performed, Whicker reported "the old girl took it pretty well." Photographs of when Jornlin and his crew retrieved the ship from Greece more than four years ago show a vessel "more brown than gray" from rust. "It's not the same ship," Whicker said. "The ship ran great. Smooth." The starboard flywheel for the clutch failed on the northward trip off Florida. But the crew had anticipated the problem, brought a spare and performed the change-out in four hours.
"It was the adventure of a lifetime for me," Whicker said. And he's ready to go again: "I'd have to. I'm a crew member now."
An image from the ship lingers with Whicker: graffiti. LST 325, like its sister ships, carried the ship's crew and troops on opposite sides of the vessel. On the troop (port) side, graffiti left by World War II servicemen remains, undisturbed, in deference to those among the creators who failed to make it home.