Navy veteran revisits WWII with LST 325 tour
The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — He rode a U.S. Navy landing ship all the way from New Orleans to the South Pacific during World War II, but Friday's visit to LST 325 — docked through Tuesday at Haddad Riverfront Park in Charleston — was the first time Lew Sharp had ever been on the lower tank deck of the massive landing ship.
Sharp, 87, spent most of his World War II trip topside, with a smaller LCT, or Landing Craft, Tank.
British and American designers came up with the LST, or Landing Ship, Tank, during the war to deliver cargo, supplies, vehicles and troops onto enemy beaches without the need for port facilities. More than 300 feet long, the landing ships could carry dozens of tanks or trucks and hundreds of men across the ocean to an enemy shore.
The Navy needed all sorts of ships and boats to land troops and vehicles, and also came up with the LCT. The one Sharp rode piggyback across the ocean was about 120 feet long and was designed to carry four or five medium tanks.
Too small and slow to safely cross the ocean on their own, the LCTs were frequently delivered to combat zones riding on the top deck of a larger LST.
Sharp, a Marlinton native who now lives in South Point, Ohio, said his LCT left New Orleans on the back of LST 804, bound for the invasion of Okinawa in April, 1945.
Ordinarily, ships bound for the Pacific Theater of Operations left from San Diego or another Pacific port, sailing to their destinations in convoys of other ships for mutual protection from submarines. LST 804's skipper had other plans.
"We went aboard [the LST] in New Orleans and headed down the Panama Canal," Sharp recalled.
"We had a skipper named R. Bull, and he acted just like a bull," Sharp said. "He went all the way to Pearl Harbor without an escort."
LST 804, with LCT 1418 hitching a ride topside, arrived safely in Pearl Harbor, then headed for Okinawa, where hundreds of ships were massing for what would prove to be the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific war.
Sharp himself cut the steel cable holding LCT 1418 onto the larger ship's deck, allowing the smaller vessel to slide down a greased track and into the water with a thunderous splash.
LCT 1418 took part in the Okinawa invasion, but not quite the way Sharp would have thought. Instead of ferrying troops and vehicles to the beach, the LCT was assigned to a diversionary force designed to fool the Japanese.
"The invasion started on April 1, which is April Fool's Day," Sharp said. "We were part of the April Fool's Day Invasion.
"Every day, we'd sail toward Japan," he said, "Then at night, we'd head back."
Eventually, Sharp figured out that the decoy force was supposed to make the Japanese think an Allied invasion force was on its way to Japan. It was hoped the Japanese would take the bait and decide not to send reinforcements to Okinawa.
"It worked pretty good," Sharp said.
Sharp's son and daughter decided to take the Navy veteran to see LST 325 when they found out the museum ship would be in Charleston.
The vessel will be moored at Haddad Park through Tuesday and is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.lstmemorial.org.