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WWII ship has family ties for visitors, guides
When the U.S. Navy launched the LST-325 in 1943, the military probably didn't know how much the warship would come to mean to many American families. When it docked in Cape Girardeau Friday, both those giving and taking tours of the ship shared family ties to its history.
More than 1,700 people a day stepped aboard. Crew member Lee Adams gave a history lesson to many of them, taking groups through the narrow passages. By midafternoon Monday, his cracking voice inspired one visitor to offer him a handful of throat lozenges.
But Adams, 23, doesn't mind the strain on his voice because working on the ship is about paying tribute to his 80-year-old grandfather, Marion Adams, who served on the LST-491 during World War II.
The LST-325 was acquired by the USS Ship Memorial Inc., an organization of veterans devoted to restoring and preserving such ships.
"It was important to him that this ship be brought back to service and he wanted to be involved in any way he could," Adams said.
Since his grandfather couldn't do the labor necessary to repair the ship and take it on tour, several family members volunteered to do it for him. Adams, who earned a degree in agriculture education from Ohio State University in December, spent several school breaks working on the ship while it was docked in Mobile, Ala.
More relatives to man ship
Adams is currently serving aboard with an uncle and cousin. He'll be joined in St. Louis this week by another cousin and a brother. The trip means a great deal to the more than 33 men on the crew, he said.
"I'm paying $20 a day to be here," Adams said. "It's pretty obvious that all the guys working on the ship really want to be here."
For 56-year-old Lois McFadden of Cape Girardeau, Monday's tour made her feel as if she had her late father back, even if only for the afternoon.
"I'd never seen one of these ships before, so it was really touching to see what he had talked about in his stories," she said.
Her father, Albert Klein, was shot in Africa while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was transported to a military hospital ship by an LST. Though her father lived many years afterward, McFadden found seeing the ship's infirmary the most poignant part of the tour.
"My dad may have been on that bed right there," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, he was."
For Bob Roloff of Cape Girardeau, seeing the tight living quarters surprised him.
"My dad was in the Navy and was on a ship similar to this one," Roloff said. "He was 6 foot 3 inches, and so it was interesting to me that he even fit on one of these ships."
Memories flood back
Ship Capt. Robert Jornlin said the visitor reaction has been tremendous and the crowds keep coming.
"I don't think we're going to get everybody through the ship that wants to see it," he said.
Those crowds support the ship's expenses through donations, with $70,000 raised in a little over two years, he said.
Seeing the reactions of the veterans, especially of those who served on similar ships, is satisfying, he said.
"When they take the tour, they recognize their old duty stations and it all comes back to them," he said. "They're so grateful to be aboard because they get back their memories. It was a big part of their lives that sticks with them."
335-6611, extension 160