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Memorial Day 2004


Remaining D-Day crew will sail ship one more time


Mon, Jun. 06, 2005

BOSTON - On June 7, 1944, Stephen Nedoroscik and his crewmates on the LST-325 anchored off the coast of Omaha Beach at Normandy, France, and began unloading men and materiel onto smaller craft as part of the massive D-Day invasion that would mark the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.

After they emptied the ship, Nedoroscik, a 17-year-old seaman, boarded one of those craft and went ashore with the medics to begin loading the 325 with the dead and wounded. Under fire, Nedoroscik and the others brought fallen soldiers aboard the ship, where surgeons and medics worked to save their lives.

"I was scared as hell," Nedoroscik recalled during an interview in his Millbury, Mass., home.

Sixty-one years after D-Day, the memory of that horrible and historic mission is still fresh for Nedoroscik, who, along with the surviving members of the LST-325's original crew of more than 100, will have a chance next week to sail again on the ship they nicknamed "On the Ball."

The 325 is to arrive in Boston Harbor on Wednesday. Sailed to Boston by a full crew from its temporary home in Mobile, the ship will be open for public tours in Charlestown until June 20.

For crew members of the 325 coming in from across the country, the vessel's arrival in Boston is more than just a history lesson; it is a reunion of brothers.

"I never met a finer group of men," said Lander Bumgarner, 82, of Maiden, N.C, who served as an aircraft spotter in the original crew and is coming with his son. "I will never forget those guys and was proud to serve with them."

Over the past 20 years, crew members of the LST-325 have attended annual reunions. Many of the original crew members take their children and grandchildren, so they can hear firsthand what it was like to serve in World War II. Children of deceased crew members are planning to come to Boston for the historic visit.

Like many LSTs - short for landing ship, tanks - the 325 has a noble history.

Between June 1944 and April 1945, it made 44 round trips between France and England. It carried the injured and prisoners of war back to England and returned with troops, tanks and other equipment. The ship also took part in the invasions of Sicily and Salerno, Italy.

In his book about the 325, "Mosier's Raiders," David Bronson of Kalamazoo, Mich. - son of the late James Bronson, an original crew member - recalls how on Dec. 28, 1944, the 325 helped rescue more than 700 men from the British troop transport Empire Javelin, which had been torpedoed off the coast of France. The crew and captain of the 325 were awarded a Bronze Star.

At his home , Nedoroscik has an album of faded photographs of the ship and its gangly, young crew. He joined the crew early in May 1944 in Falmouth, England, where the Allies were preparing for the Normandy Invasion.

"We were all loaded up sitting in the Falmouth River," he recalled. "It was dark, and German planes came over. The first thing they hit was the oil depot. We all lit up like a Christmas tree."

A plane came right over them, he said, but they got lucky: The bomb bay doors were open, but the plane didn't drop one.

Robert Lemieux of Leominster, Mass., 80, a member of the original crew, joined the Navy at 17 in 1942. He is taking his family to see his old ship this week.

"They've heard my stories about it," he said. "Now I want them to see it."

The 325's visit to Boston is meant not only to honor the men who served and died aboard the flat-bottomed vessels that were considered the workhorses of the military, but also the men and women who built them, said Frank Earley of Plymouth, chairman of the committee welcoming the 325 and a past president of the Massachusetts chapter of the United States LST Association. Many LSTs were built at local shipyards, including Charlestown Navy Yard, Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, and Hingham Shipyard.

The Navy reactivated the 325 in the early 1960s and transferred it to the Greek Navy, where it remained until 1999. The next year, it was acquired by USS LST Ship Memorial Inc., and a crew of veterans sailed it to Mobile in January 2001.

One of the more than 1,000 LSTs built between 1942 and 1945, the 325 is the only one still able to sail under its own power and in its original World War II configuration, Earley said. "We were lucky never to have been hit," said crew member William Hanley, 83, of Lavallette, N.J., who is coming to Boston.

Ron Colpus of Braintree, Mass., a master mariner for 38 years, sailed the 325 from Mobile. He said from the ship last week that the World War II Navy veterans serving as its crew are thrilled to be back on board an LST like the one on which they served.

Nedoroscik has taken some of his 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren to Mobile to see the 325, but he's looking forward to sharing his past with his family when it docks in Boston, he said.

"When we were checking our baggage at the airport on the way home, the young woman clerk asked me if I had been on the 325," he said. "When I said I had been, she came from behind the counter and gave me a kiss. That's how I know it is still important to people."


Book tells of bonds made aboard LST 325 in WWII

Ship to celebrate D-Day anniversary in Boston

May 23, 2004


of the Peoria Journal Star

James Bronson served aboard the LST 325 for almost three years and took part in the invasions of Sicily, Italy and Normandy. He was a plankowner, a member of the World War II warship's original crew.

Now, 60 years after the ship landed on the beach at Normandy, and 10 years after the soldier's death, his son has published an accounting of the historic LST, its mission and the bond of brotherhood formed by her crew. As a special tribute, Dave Bronson will sail aboard his father's ship as the 325 takes part in the 60th anniversary D-Day memorial celebrations next month.

"I hadn't met any of his friends until my wife and I attended the 1999 ship's reunion in Springfield, Illinois," said 41-year-old David Bronson, author of "Mosier's Raiders: The Story of LST 325."

"Now, imagine how it felt to have these men who were like brothers to my father ... veterans of three invasions ... men who had been part of the Normandy invasion, which can be argued to be the most important day in history ... men who had done their part in saving the world from the greatest evil ever faced.

"Imagine these men thanking me, for the simple act of remembering them and for caring about what they had been part of."

The ship has made news locally, with its captain hailing from the LaSalle County community of Earlville and Peoria seeking to become its permanent docking site.

James Bronson died in 1994 just before the 50th anniversary memorials of the Normandy invasion. The idea for the book came after David Bronson's moving experience at the reunion five years later. At that point, the quality technician at a tool and dye shop in Michigan had no idea his father's ship would in a few short years again make history and bring recognition to the virtually unknown amphibious vessels called landing ship tanks.

In 2000, after efforts to repair two other decommissioned LSTs failed, a group of aging sailors secured the 325 from the Greek Navy, repaired her on the island of Crete and sailed her home across the Atlantic against Coast Guard warnings. That story is now well-documented and known around the world.

The USS LST Ship Memorial serves as a traveling museum and has welcomed more than 100,000 visitors aboard in an effort to educate the nation about the importance of the ship and her service to this country.

Bronson was there in 2001 when the crew, with an average age of 74, sailed the ship into Mobile, Ala.

"It was very emotional," Bronson said. "Seeing it come up the river. How to describe it? It was like he (his father) was there.

"When they blew the ship's whistle ... how many times did my dad hear that?"

At that time, the author and fellow Navy veteran presented the crew with a rough draft of the book. But there were more pictures and a summary of the ship's recent history to be added before Bronson would ultimately self-publish the book in March through iUniverse.

The new book tells the history of the 325 through the stories of the men who served aboard her. Bronson interviewed 19 of the original crew members and filled in gaps with history and stories from family members and the ship's logs.

"All of that makes up the heart and soul of the book," Bronson said.

If the book sells well, Bronson still is interested in having it picked up by a traditional publisher.

"I had submitted it to four or five publishers," Bronson said. "But they are not interested in publishing books about individual ships' histories unless it's a famous ship.

"I guess LSTs aren't famous enough," he said.

Dedicated veterans and volunteers are doing their best to bring recognition - if not fame - to LSTs and the 325, the only operating LST in the world.

After weeks in drydock in Mobile, Ala., making seemingly endless repairs, the 325 volunteer workers completed the task and floated off the dock on Tuesday.

Just a week ago, the ship's captain and sailors were pleading for workers to come to Mobile in a desperate attempt to finish repairs in time for a historic East Coast voyage to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The ship is scheduled to depart Monday.

Holes in the hull and stowaway raccoons, among other major problems, caused concern that the ship might not be seaworthy.

Capt. Bill Doherty attributed the success to Capt. Bob Jornlin of Earlville, who sailed the ship home from Crete. Jornlin has been in Mobile working tirelessly to make the upcoming voyage a reality.

"He was everywhere chasing down solutions to problems," Doherty said. "No one has spent more time on the bottom of this ship than Bob. No one has crawled more double bottom tanks on this ship than Bob. No one has put more of his heart and soul into this project than Bob."

That's one reason Peoria is among the handful of final sites for the LST's permanent docking site, and close to Jornlin's heart, as ships identical to the 325 were built just up the Illinois River at Seneca in LaSalle County. The other sites being considered for a permanent home are Paducah, Ky.; Evansville, Ind.; and Jeffersonville, Ind.

Jornlin said the group is seeking a free docking space, utility hookups and some type of security for the 325. Docking fees in Mobile have been costing the not-for-profit group $150 a day. The ship would dock the majority of the year and be open for tours. Plans also call for the crew to sail the ship a few weeks out of the summer to expose more people to the floating museum's history.

The ship departs Mobile on Monday for the 4,200-mile, 47-day East Coast cruise. The first port of call is Boston, where the ship will be included as part of the 60th anniversary memorial celebration of D-Day on June 6. The LST 325 will take her place next to the oldest operating Navy vessel, the USS Constitution, and escort the ship during her annual turnabout. Now the second-oldest operating naval vessel, the 325 will continue on its way with various other stops before arriving back in Mobile on July 10.

Jornlin said about half of the crew will be World War II veterans, with the remainder veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars. About 10 men from the 28-member crew that brought the 325 home from Crete are expected to make the Boston trip. Coast Guard-licensed merchant marine officers also will be on board navigating the ship.

The captain said it will be the last voyage for 99 percent of his men.

Upon returning to Mobile, Jornlin has said the board members of the USS LST Ship Memorial will then make a decision on a permanent location for the 328-foot-long war ship.

"We'll go to all four towns and then hopefully we'll see the shining light, so to speak," Jornlin said. "We're looking for the best place for this ship to continue long after we're dead."

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