Troops on LST 325 witness USS Boise fire its weapons during the invasion of Sicily on July 11, 1943. Troops sat poised on top of cargo as back-up gunners. © Navy Archives
A well-attended pre-invasion church service was held on the forecastle of the ship on June 4, 1944. © Stan Barish
Ron Bezouska ’56 wanted to experience the enlisted side of the Navy, so the slender 73-year-old commissioned Naval officer became a volunteer on an old World War II ship.
Bezouska is a deck sailor on Landing Ship Tank (LST) 325. Instead of protecting America from threats, he’s helping preserve and share America’s history on the only original configured, operational World War II vessel of its kind in the United States. “You have a lot of static museum ships, but this one brings history to your city,” said Bezouska, the board vice president of LST 325 Ship Memorial Inc., a nonprofit group that brought the vessel back to America from Greece.
As the historic ship-turned-floating-museum made a trip up the Illinois River last summer, including a two-and-a-half-week stop in Peoria, Bezouska’s day started at 6 a.m. with chores. Breakfast followed at 7 and quarters at 8, when the day’s plan was set. “By virtue of my position on the board, I could be living in officer country,” said Bezouska. “We live in aft crews quarters. I’m closer to the crew this way, and I hope they relate to me in an easier fashion than if I were up here in officer country.”
The days at port on LST 325 are often spent answering questions from the thousands of ship visitors. The ship’s homeport is Evansville, Indiana, but it is allowed to travel for five weeks during the year. It has navigated the Ohio, Illinois and Mississippi rivers and sailed to the Atlantic Ocean for celebrations.
A native of the Chicago suburb Berwyn and a retired field auditor for the state of Ohio, Bezouska dedicated 31 years to the Navy after graduating from Bradley with a business degree. He served on a cruiser, an ammunition ship, and a destroyer before joining the Reserves. “I didn’t sail on them in my Navy career,” Bezouska said of the LST. “But after not being at sea for over 20 years, you take a ride any way you can get it.”
What is an LST?
LST 325 is a Landing Ship Tank, used in World War II and other wars to transport troops and equipment to coastal areas.
According to the LST 325 Ship Memorial Inc. Web site, LST 325 was launched on October 27, 1942, and commissioned on February 1, 1943. In 1944 and 1945, the ship made 44 trips between England and France. In December 1944, it helped rescue more than 700 men from another ship that had been torpedoed off the coast of France.
“This type of ship was the workhorse of World War II,” said Bezouska. “This is the ship that won World War II, because it did everything.”
After a lengthy career, the LST 325 was reactivated for a second time in 1963 and transferred to Greece in May 1964. The Greek Navy decommissioned the ship in December 1999.
In 2000, the ship was acquired by LST 325 Ship Memorial, Inc. A group of about 60 men went to Crete to prepare the ship for its 6,500-mile trip to America. Many of the group returned home upon the ship’s departure, while 28 sailed the LST 325 into Mobile, Alabama, on January 10, 2001.
The ship was “unveiled” in September 2001 after being restored. Restoration projects continue to improve the ship while in its homeport of Evansville, Indiana.
Visit lstmemorial.org or call 812-435-8678 for more information and the ship’s schedule of tours.
View additional photographs from LST 325's Peoria visit. Go >