FLORENCE — With an occasional round of cannon fire erupting from the ship and "Sweet Home, Alabama" blaring through its loudspeakers, the LST-325 traveled through the Shoals on Monday.

Local residents who gathered along the shores at McFarland Park waved enthusiastically at those aboard.

A floating piece of history, the LST-325 made its way along the Tennessee River on its way to Chattanooga, Tennessee, before doubling back and going to Decatur. The LST-325 is the last operating LST (landing ship, tank) from World War II, said Owen Chapman, a volunteer aboard the craft. Chapman, of Decatur, is a U.S. Navy veteran who served on the LST-821 during the Vietnam War.

John and June Clark waved small American flags at it passed by.

"My dad was in World War II and we think he may have been on a LST," June Clark said. "That makes this more meaningful."

For Vladimir and Veronica Martinez and their son, Max Fuentes, the ship was a pleasant surprise. They did not know it was traveling through when they decided to come to the park.

"It was our lucky day today," Veronica Martinez said.

"That was cool," Max Feuntes said, adding the cannon fire was his favorite part.

Clayton Mitchell, 11, and his 6-year-old brother, Gavin Jeffreys, also enjoyed the moment. That especially was true for Mitchell, who at age 11 has a remarkable knowledge about World War II.

"We entered on Dec. 7, 1941, after the Pearl Harbor attack," he said, before entering into a story involving Japaneses Zeros and American P-51 Mustang aircraft.

He also discussed the importance of LSTs as landing crafts, mentioning specifically, "M4 Sherman tanks launched from them at Normandy."

Housed at Evansville, Indiana, the ship goes on tour one month each summer.

According to its history on its website, LST-325 was commissioned on Feb. 1, 1943, and served in the European Theater. It was part of the invasion forces at Sicily, as well as Normandy, France, for D-Day. There were 171 U.S. LSTs during that operation.

Chapman said it is 325 feet long and 50 feet wide.

The craft did not stop in the Shoals, but will dock in Decatur from Aug. 29 to Sept 3, Chapman said. It will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day.

The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for ages 6-17, while children 5 and younger, World War II and Korean War veterans, and active members of the military are admitted free, he said.

All proceeds go toward upkeep and sailing costs of the ship. Everyone aboard is a volunteer.

The LST-325 is owned and operated by the nonprofit USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc., according to its website.

Chapman said the LST-325 made 44 trips between England and Normandy during D-Day. The amphibious LSTs landed battle-ready troops and equipment directly onto enemy shores.

"You'll be walking on the same ship those soldiers walked on in D-Day," he said.

Evansville, Indiana, was the location of a plant that manufactured LSTs at a remarkable pace during World War II, Chapman said. He said the plant was built during the war, and 326 LSTs were produced throughout the conflict.

"They started from a cornfield and had to build a shipyard," Chapman said.

During the 1950s, the LST-325 was used in arctic operations with the Military Sea Transportation Service, the website states. It was used with the Greek Navy from 1964 until 2000 until a group of veterans brought it back to the United States during a journey from 2000 to 2001.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski


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