When the allied countries of WWII amassed off the coast of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, USS LST 393 was among them. The giant Landing Ship, Tank would deliver men and vehicles to the shore on Omaha Beach on June 7, helping to advance the D-Day invasion into the Nazi-held territory. Seventy-four years later, LST 393 sits docked in Muskegon, continuing to serve in the memory of those allied troops and their comrades-in-arms from other international conflicts. Volunteers have beautifully restored it and the ship brings the history of WWII and other wars to life. But it seems to be sailing under the radar with not enough people knowing about its existence or its role.
I visited LST 393 this past weekend after hearing about a special two-day event with re-enactments and free admission. Camping for the weekend at Muskegon State Park, I decided to make an adventure out of riding my bike the 11 miles (one-way) to the port. The event was great. But more important, it was exciting to find this hidden treasure from WWII. (You can learn more about the ship and my camping adventure in our YouTube video.)
More than just WWII
The organization that operates this veterans museum housed within LST 393 is often looking for ways to do fundraising. They have no major corporate sponsors and no giant foundation is supporting their efforts. And yet, they have pulled together an impressive array of memorabilia from throughout history. Artifacts range from WWI through the War in Afghanistan. They have sections dedicated to the veterans and equipment from each of the wars. There is an area for the “Muskegon connection,” as well as a memorial to K-9 warriors.
Towering above and around all of this is the ship itself, wonderfully restored. It gives you a glimpse into what life was like on a WWII transport that provided the much-needed tanks, trucks, jeeps, and soldiers that made up the U.S. invasion forces. In addition to Operation D-Day, LST 393 undertook numerous other missions to many shores during WWII.
After the war, a company converted it into a Great Lakes freighter, ferrying new cars from Michigan to Wisconsin. Later, people with a vision saved it from the scrap heap and started the ship down its new lane toward museum and memorial. I’m so glad they did. Too often, people don’t learn enough about WWII and the sacrifices made to keep so much of the world free. I overheard some comments by visitors that made me shake my head as I realized how little they knew about that era.
Prized possessions from LST 393
There are many impressive pieces of equipment and memorabilia throughout LST 393. But the group that runs the museum landed two amazing finds related to the ship. The first is the U.S. flag that flew from the mast on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Due to routine damage at sea, the flag was lowered and replaced. But the sailor who brought the damaged flag down wrote a note about its significance and tucked both into his seabag. Decades later when he passed away, his family found the flag and presented it to the LST 393 organization.
The other great piece of history is the remnants of the champagne bottle that was used to christen LST 393 upon completion in 1942. The 11-year-old daughter of a shipbuilding executive had the honor of performing the ceremony. Officials gave her the mesh bag that held the bottle, the ribbons, and other paraphernalia from that day as a keepsake. The LST 393 volunteers found her, now in her mid-80s, and she gave them her most prized possession so that it could be reunited with the ship she christened.
Freedom isn’t free
It’s great that people came together and saved a treasure like LST 393. Nothing brings history to life quite like touring an old ship. It is inspiring to learn about the people who served on board and the feats of service and bravery that ships like LST 393 represent.
Ticket prices are $8 for adults and $5 for students. You can tour the whole thing in about an hour to 90 minutes. But if you have the time, I highly recommend spending more time there. Stop and read the placards with information. Take a few minutes in each section of the ship to take it all in. LST 393 is a big ship, and sometimes things so immense are hard to grasp. But if you spend a little time there, you’ll soon have an appreciation for those brave souls who have fought in war — some who gave, and some who gave all.