Visiting the LST-325

Parked behind the Bettis Grill.

For those who don’t know, the LST-325 — one of the last, if not the last — ginormous WWII-era transport ships came into Pittsburgh. Rescued from a Greek scrapyard (as the ship served the Greek navy longer than the U.S.), she’s been refurbished and is on tour. Pittsburghers helped make hundreds of these ships during World War II, so there’s a little bit of yinz in every LST that was made.

According to the brochure, LST stands for “Landing Ship, Tank” — which basically means it’s an amphibious ship that that could drop an asston of armor, men and supplies on the beach. In the Pacific, these ships would open their front doors and the amphibious tractors would swim ashore so they wouldn’t have to beach themselves like they did during D-Day.

Hey, I was just on that ship! Thanks Wikipedia!

Well, as soon as I heard it was coming for a visit, I knew I HAD to go. Not only is it living history, but my Uncle Fred likely went over on one of these ships … and my father, being a Marine, was likely on board a similar ship. I jumped at the chance to go. At the last minute, my friend Kelly opted to come along, so I picked her up and off we went to see the historic ship.

Now, the ship is big. I mean, it’s meant to carry 20 Sherman tanks on the top deck, and all kinds of assorted supplies in the hold, so obviously it has to be big … but I mean, when you’re walking in through the cargo hold, you sit there and think “Man, this sucker is huge.”

Yep, it's big.

I mean, you’re walking through effortlessly. Sure, by today’s standards, this ship would probably be small. And hell, we have airplanes that can carry tanks and such. But still, this sucker was cranked out in droves, and it was made to be disposable. And, according to one of the veterans on board, the steel hull was only 3/8-of-an-inch thick … meaning your iPhone was way thicker than the hull. 3/8″ … it’s kinda scary when you think about it. That’s all that’s separating you and the sea. Yeesh!

Now, I’m not going to give you a blow by blow of our tour of the ship. Quite honestly, we felt a little rushed as we went on the tour. That feeling had nothing to do with the gentlemen serving as guides (the ones we talked to were simply awesome) … but it comes up because you’re in tight quarters and there’s always people coming up behind you. So, I ended up snapping a ton of pictures. 97, to be exact. It was really a remarkable ship, and likely my only chance to be aboard one.

I think Kelly summed it up best: What makes this tour so interesting was the fact that you could talk to men who served on LSTs, and it was like talking to your grandfather about his time in the service, and you had the equipment right there so he could show you how stuff worked. I mean, we ended up talking to one of the tour guides as we were about to step foot into the officer’s section. He looked at me and said, “My guess is that you would be too old to be the captain of one of these ships.” Turns out the average captain was about 25. Some of the chiefs were in their 30s. I thought back to when I was 25, and to be commanding one of these ships? No way! That would have been crazy talk! But it was war, and that’s what was needed, so the men had to grow up fast.

And you thought your dorm was small...

And like I said, space was tight aboard these ships once you got inside. All the space was meant for cargo and supplies … not for the men on the ship. What was funny was behind us, there were a few sailors who were in civilian life again. And they were talking about these bunk areas, and how these were spacious compared to some of the ships that they had served on. One guy said he had a top bunk where he could touch the ceiling with his stomach. They also talked about getting a “warm rack” — meaning someone else slept in their bed while they were on duty. These 2 things gave me a ton of respect for sailors. Quite simply, not a job I could do. That would be a bit too much for me.

The gentleman who talked about the age of the crew on board also told us that these ships rolled badly at sea. Now, as some of those steps were kinda steep, I laughed and told him I surely would have been thrown overboard. he said, “Well, that’s why most guys just used their hands. Their feet would never touch the steps.” And now a lot of movie scenes made sense to me. Just one of those tidbits I didn’t know.

So, if you get a chance to go see the LST-325, I highly recommend it. It’s in Pittsburgh on the North Shore (right by Heinz Field) through Sept. 6. It’s $10 for a tour, and the hours are 9am-4pm. It’s well worth the visit, especially if you are veteran or a history buff.

We got our sights set on you, Pittsburgh!


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