D-Day Beach Landing Craft Now Carries Ferry Passengers
NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) _ Gene Langan has ridden the ferry across Long Island Sound plenty of times. But not until this month did he learn why one ferry boat had always felt so familiar.
The Cape Henlopen is not only a converted World War II landing craft; it’s also the very ship that transported him to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Langan, 67, a retired conductor for the Long Island Rail Road, had suspected the ferry was an old LST, and the ferry company confirmed it just a couple weeks ago. But the real kick was learning the Cape Henlopen had been LST-510, on which Langan served as a seaman second class.
Langan plans to be on board June 6, when the ferry company takes the ferry out of service and sails it into the Sound for a special 50th anniversary commemoration of D-Day, including dropping a wreath into the water.
Stan Mickus, a spokesman for Cross Sound Ferry Service, got Langan’s address from Ernie Williams, another former LST-510 crewman and a member of the U.S. LST Association.
″I still have many vivid memories of those amazing times,″ Williams said when contacted at his Gladstone, Mo., home. ″You never forget something like the D-Day invasion, and what it was like at Utah and Omaha beaches.″
The LST-510 - a 327-foot-long, flat-bottomed landing craft built in early 1944 at the shipyard in Jeffersonville, Ind. - was part of the enormous Allied fleet that crossed the English Channel before dawn that June 6. The LST designation stood for landing ship-tank, but GIs suggested it really meant ″long, slow target.″
″There were ships everywhere,″ Williams recalled. ″The channel was crammed with ships; it was ships, ships and more ships, as far as the eye could see, and there were hundreds of planes overhead. We were all headed for France.″
Williams was a 17-year-old machinist’s mate at the time. But he was so excited and jittery on the D-Day trip that his crew chief sent him up on deck to help with the forward anti-aircraft gun.
″That’s where I was when our forces hit the beach. I had a front-row seat,″ he said.
″The Germans were shooting at us like crazy with their machine guns, and the water was full of floating bodies.″
The Norman coast was so crowded with other ships that the 510 never made the beach, instead unloading its 200 men and 70 pieces of equipment into smaller boats a mile out.
″But we later made it ashore, plenty of times,″ Williams said.
In ensuing days, he said, the 510 made nearly 40 channel crossings, taking troops and supplies to Normandy and bringing wounded men back to England.
As the 510 returned to England on D-Day, Army surgeons operated on wounded soldiers stretched out on mess hall tabletops.
″I was too young and too dumb to be scared,″ Williams said. ″It was an unforgettable time for a 17-year-old country boy.″
Williams left the service, and the ship, in 1945. Hundreds of LSTs were mothballed, with some later returned to action in Vietnam, bought by the Mexican and Chinese navies or sold as scrap.
″The LSTs were ugly ducklings built for just one thing - beach landings,″ Williams said.
But Capt. Gary Duplessis, who takes the Cape Henlopen back and forth from Connecticut to Orient Point, N.Y., on Long Island each day, says LSTs make excellent ferry boats.
″Of course, the only thing that’s left from the days when this was a military craft is the basic design,″ he said.
A top deck was added, the pilothouse was moved from the rear of the craft to the front, and everything on board was updated.
Duplessis said the old LST is perfectly suited for the 17-mile crossing.
″This craft is a real testimony to the way ships were built back in World War II,″ he said. ″The amazing thing is, they built these ships in just four months, assembling them the way you’d put together a modular home.″