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Veterans visit LST, share memories of WW II
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Saturday, September 14, 2013 5:00 AM
World War II veterans Bill Pollard, from left, Dee Raymer and Woodrow Payton share stories while in the lower section of the LST-325 on Thursday. Pollard served in the Navy, then the Army Air Corps and then the Air Force. Raymer and Payton were both in the Army. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchieemail@example.com)
World War II veteran Herbert Williams, right, and Jeff Thoke look up at one of the Higgins boats on the LST-325. The two Higgins boats were used in the WWII movie Flags of Our Fathers. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchiefirstname.lastname@example.org)
Daily tours of LST-325 will be available at $10 for adults, $5 for those between ages 6 and 17, and $20 for a family of two adults and two children. Children 5 and younger are free.
Tours are about 45 minutes long.
Tours will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Guests are allowed to take pictures at any point during the tour.
At 86 years old, Glenn Fisher was the youngest of a small group of World War II veterans who posed together for pictures in front of the LST-325 Memorial.
The group, which included veterans ages 86 to 95 - all from Kentucky - toured the ship Thursday, and many of them were getting their first glimpse of a landing ship, tank in decades.
Like the veterans, the LST-325 was a crucial part of World War II, having been used to land troops and supplies in Normandy on D-Day.
The LST-325, which launched in October 1942 and was decommissioned for the final time in 1999, now serves as a floating museum with a home port in Evansville.
The ship will be docked in Madison at the city boat ramp until Monday, and daily tours will include a look at the main deck, troop berthing area, tank deck, mess deck, galley, guns and anchor, wheel house, officer's quarters and the captain's cabin.
There's a good reason Fisher was the young one of the bunch. The Trimble County native joined the U.S. Army when he was just 15 and went on to join troops throughout the European Theater.
He still carries the scars of his service. During the Battle of the Bulge, he took shrapnel in his face - the upper left cheek - and his lower back.
"It doesn't bother me. Sometimes I set of metal detectors. I just tell them, 'Well, I've still got some metal in me,'" he joked.
In 1942 - at a time men were getting drafted out of high school - Fisher lied about his age so he could join the military. The Army soon found out his real age and removed him from service. But Fisher was persistent, and managed to convince Army officials to enlist him again.
"At that time they were taking anyone they could get," he said.
Fisher spent seven years on active duty and another 30 years as a reserve, retiring as a colonel.
He was sent to the European Theater one month after D-Day. There, he spent 18 months pushing east through the war-torn area until his company eventually met the Russian forces at the Elbe River - about 30 miles from Berlin. The Russian-American meetup signified the final collapse of the Axis powers in Europe.
"That was quite an experience," Fisher said.
After Europe, Fisher was pulled back into redeployment training in order to assist Allied troops in the Pacific Theater, but the war ended before he was sent.
Bill Pollard, a Pleasureville, Ky., native, who, after being drafted into the Army, was among the first wave of Allied troops to arrive in Normandy, France on D-Day.
His vessel was destroyed well before it reached the shore, and to keep from drowning in the nearly 60-feet of water, Pollard shed his gear to stay afloat until a passing ship picked him up.
"I didn't have anything," he said.
Pollard, now 95 years old, has vivid memories of the LST, but not in the condition he witnessed on Thursday.
"Most of them were sunk," he said.
During the invasions, when the LSTs came close to the beach and dropped the ramp door - which would have sent troops, vehicles, ammunition and other supplies to the shore - Pollard said enemy soldiers would fire an 80mm shell directly into the heart of the ship, sinking the vessel.
Pollard survived the initial invasion and went on to serve 23 years of active duty before retiring as a colonel.
In Normandy, he was on the beach the day the bodies of those killed in action were organized, and again when the soldiers were finally laid to rest.
He went back for the 50th anniversary and saw the multitude of graves that were still unmarked. In some cases, the bodies were so badly damaged they were impossible to identify, he said.
"It would surprise you seeing that cemetery and all those crosses that don't have names," he said.
Another veteran, Herbert Williams, now 91, lost two brothers in the war. Williams' older brother died from injuries sustained on D-Day, while his younger brother died during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Williams, a former pilot in the Navy from Henry County, Ky., was serving in the Pacific when he received the news of his younger brother's death.
"They grounded me and sent me home," he said.
Williams knows his older brother, Charles Williams, stormed the beaches of Normandy, which could have placed him an LST. On Thursday, he searched for his brother's name in the list of LST-325 service members, but he couldn't find an entry.
"I thought he was on this ship, but evidently not," said Williams.
Trimble County resident Jeff Thoke coordinated the LST visit for the nine veterans.
We wanted to do something special because these guys are disappearing at a rate of 1,000 per day," he said. "They're disappearing that fast. And they are American heroes."
WWII LST to set course for Madison
Jefferson County's role in World War II
LST arrives in Madison
PHOTOS: War Stories
VIDEO: LST IN MADISON
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