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Archive for Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Aging Navy veterans honored for sailing feat

Crew brought WWII vessel home in daring winter crossing of Atlantic

July 4, 2001

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— A crew of aging veterans who sailed a rusting World War II vessel across the Atlantic in the middle of winter will be given a heroes' welcome on Independence Day.

About a dozen of the Navy vets who were aboard the LST 325 are expected to attend today's Spirit of America Festival in Decatur, where they will receive the Audie Murphy Award, created in 1971 in honor of the nation's most decorated World War II veteran.

The Coast Guard had warned the crew of 29 against trying to cross the ocean during the stormy winter months, suggesting that the vessel wasn't safe and that the elderly men might not be up to the task.

But the veterans, average age 72, pressed ahead.

They began their 4,350-mile journey in December from Gibraltar, toughing out rough weather, steering problems, a failed engine and a hole in the bow.

In January, thousands of people jammed Mobile's waterfront to welcome the LST 325, which delivered troops to Normandy during the D-Day invasion.

Debra Talley, organizer of the Spirit of America Festival, said her office was bombarded by people nominating the crew for the award.

"We are very honored to receive this award," said Robert Jornlin, skipper of the 328-foot vessel. "We just wanted to get and bring back an LST for everyone to enjoy."

The ship was built in 1942. It was later lent to the Greek government. Congress authorized Greece to turn it to the veterans for use as a memorial.

The ship is now awaiting repairs, a scrubbing and a painting before being turned into a museum. Fund raising for its restoration is just getting started, with crew members giving speeches.

"What I like about the whole thing is the LST spans really all the generations of veterans," said Bill Kaupas, 48, of Dallas, a Navy signalman in Vietnam. "The one I was on was built in 1953."

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