An opportunity to tour a piece of American history will be available through Monday in Bettendorf as a World War II ship that participated in the D-Day invasion in France nearly 75 years ago is docked at the Isle Casino Hotel.
The ship is the USS LST — or Landing Ship Tank — 325, a vessel about as long as a football field designed to land battle-ready tanks, troops and supplies onto enemy shores.
The importance of LSTs cannot be overstated, as there was no other way for the United States to invade as, obviously, all deep-water ports were held by enemy forces, be they in Europe or the Pacific, John Tallent, president of the USS LST-325 Memorial Inc., said last Wednesday during an opening ceremony.
“Every invasion of World War II required an amphibious invasion,” he said. “So the question became, do we have enough LSTs? They were vital to the success of the Allies,” he said.
In addition to delivering 59 vehicles, 396 enlisted men and 30 officers to Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944 (the day after the initial invasion), the LST-325 made 40 subsequent trips back and forth across the English Channel in the nine months after that, Tallent said.
“To say that this ship played a role in changing the course of human history is not hyperbole,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Gentry of the First Army, another speaker at the ceremonies that included music by the Great Lakes Navy Band.
Although 1,051 LSTs were manufactured during WWII, the LST-325 is the last one capable of operating on its own power, Gentry said.
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The First Army is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and bringing the LST-325 to Bettendorf is one of the ways it is doing that.
tour by a man who was there
At every point on the ship’s multiple levels, there are signs explaining what you’re seeing. In addition, the ship has a full-time crew of 52 men wearing red T-shirts who are there to answer questions.
Touring the ship before the opening ceremony was Roald Zvonik, 92, of Moline, who has two special ties to the vessel.
First, Zvonik is a WWII Navy veteran who served 22 months on an identical vessel named the LST-722 and participated in three invasions in the Pacific, the largest on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
Second, Zvonik is a member of a veterans’ group called the USS LST Memorial Inc. that, in 2000, acquired the LST-325 to preserve it as a museum. By 2000, the vessel had long-since been decommissioned by the U.S. Navy and was in Greece, sent to that country in 1964 as part of the grant-in-aid program.
Zvonik also is one of three Quad-City veterans who, paying their own way to Greece, spent six hard months repairing the vessel that was in much worse shape than they had been led to believe, Zvonik said. Then a crew of 29 sailed it 6,500 miles back to the United States. (The other two Quad-City men, George White, of Coal Valley, and Donald Chapman, of East Moline, have since died.)
The group raised about $100,000 to do the work.
Walking through the vessel now, Zvonik had plenty to point out:
l A hole in the ceiling where enemy aircraft had strafed the vessel;
l Metal “Xs” in the floor where vehicles, such as tanks, could be tied down so they would not shift if the vessel began rocking on heavy seas;
l A 20 MM machine gun, with a mannequin at the controls, exactly like the one Zvonik manned on his vessel. “It shook the beejeebers out of you,” he said. “You had to strap yourself in.”
“When they sounded ‘general quarters,’ you had to get out of bed and dressed and get to your station in 30 seconds and you’d better be there. If you were sick, you could puke along the way.”
l The beds, called racks, made of canvas and stacked four high in tight quarters.
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l The captain’s quarters with a wood table where he would dine. But it probably was covered with stainless steel during times of invasion because it would double as an operating table, Zvonik said. “You had to do it.”
When the LST-325 leaves Tuesday, it will travel to Chester, Ill.
IF YOU GO
What: Self-guided tours of the LST-325, a World War II vessel. Allow about 45 minutes.
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Monday
Where: On the Mississippi River at the Isle Casino Hotel, 1777 Isle Parkway, Bettendorf.
How much: $10 adults; $5 ages 6-17; free for children 5 years and younger and WWII veterans.
For more information: LSTmemorial.org.