History returns

Emsworth resident Jennie-Lynn Knox stands at the wheel where her father, James Knox, would have stood during WWII, a view shared with James’ granddaughter Kelsey. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen For more LST photos, visit the Multimedia Section

It was an emotional moment for Jennie-Lynn Knox as she held the wheel of LST 325, a Navy ship that paused in the Emsworth Locks on Wednesday morning on its way to docking on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

“I can’t believe that this is where he would have stood,” she said softly, looking straight out at the water just as her father, James W. Knox of Emsworth, must have done for countless hours during his service aboard LST 491.

In his book, “The Birth of the LST,” Jim Knox described how he served 3 1/2 years during World War II as communications officer, executive officer and commanding officer of his LST “…participating in the landings at Normandy in 1944…in the invasion of southern France, the Battle of Okinawa and in the occupation of Japan.”

World War II naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison states on a Navy Web site that the LST -- Landing Ship: Tanks -- functioned as “…the "most useful all-around craft invented by the Navy."

While guiding visitors on a tour of the ship, Capt. Robert Jornlin explained how

Winston S. Churchill, while serving in World War I, realized the need for a "tank-landing lighter" that could put tanks directly ashore.

Jornlin said that Churchill gave the concept to President Franklin Roosevelt and, wasting little time, John C. Niedermair of the Bureau of Ships sketched out the basic design for the LST. There were 23 in commission by the end of 1942, with many of the more than 1,000 eventually built being assembled at Dravo, just across the Ohio River from Emsworth, and with more produced just a few miles downriver at American Bridge. Navy historical sources say that “…670 were launched by five major inland shipyards on the Ohio and Illinois rivers.”

Emsworth resident Jack Latshaw, 83, worked on LSTs at American Bridge, starting when he was 17, taking a part-time job as “…a good old laborer. I did whatever I was told to do.”

Now based in Evansville, IN, LST 325 is the only one that is operational as an original ship. “Greece --one of our allies -- had seven of them ‘in the boneyard,’ and we took one of them,”Jornlin said.

Nearly all of the equipment came with the ship, but the communications room was missing its radios. Through a merging of modern technology with technology from the past, the crew found WWII radios on the internet. “All of them work,”Jornlin said as a radio operator sent out a message in Morse Code.

Looking over LST 325, Bob Barbier of Peoria IL, retired from the Navy and serving on the ship for five years, said, “This was state-of-the-art in World War II.”

With a crew of 40 volunteers representing all branches of the military, as well as some civilians honoring those who served, “Our mission is to remind people of the importance of this ship,”Jornlin said. “Without LSTs, the invasions on D-Day and of the islands of the Pacific would not have been possible.”

Recognizing the efforts of those volunteers, Valerie Knox, widow of James, said, “The event was fabulous in so many ways. I was so impressed with the committed men who are so devoted to their cause.”

The ceremonies strongly impacted James Knox’s granddaughter, Kelsey, 17, as well, who commented, “I really enjoyed seeing firsthand a part of my grandfather’s past and the past of countless others who served on LSTs, especially since some of the ships were made on Neville Island. It was amazing to see everything that has been in my history books for the past four years.”

In closing remarks, Jennie-Lynn spoke as a representative of the community that contributed so strongly to the construction of the LST, paying homage to local citizens who served and sacrificed during the War.

“Many people in the boroughs and townships surrounding Pittsburgh served on LSTs,” she said. “Many more built them in local shipyards. Our gathering today is to honor all those local men and women, and to those across our great nation. That is why our small communities recognize and applaud your efforts to preserve the LST in the history of WWII.”

Tours are available through Sept. 6, from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m., with the cost of tickets $10 for adults, $5 for school-age children, $3 for children in a school group, and with children 6 and younger admitted free. A family ticket costs $20.

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