Community Comment:

Experience at the throttle supports LST 325 Mutiny

I will probably never be recognized as a trendsetter with my little rubber ducky in full-dress Marine blue uniform on the dashboard of my car. I bought him several weeks ago amid a rather spirited conversation among tour guides and the women who work in the gift shop at LST-325.

At the time, many of the volunteers were furious over the board's decision to accept Sandy Whicker's resignation from the position of office manager we were saddened that our dear friend and comrade would no longer be around to swap jokes and insults with.

Little did we know that in just a few weeks, what started as a minor personnel matter would mushroom into a full-scale symbolic statement of no-confidence in Captain Bob Jornlin, and the Board of Directors of the LST-325 Memorial Foundation.

The seeds of the current dispute were planted long before I came aboard to work as a volunteer tour guide in October 2007. As I was learning the ropes (lines, actually, in nautical jargon) and the specific details of the ship, I was confidentially warned by several veteran tour guides to give the Captain a wide berth and that he had a terrific temper.

I studied the information sheet and began reading everything I could get my hands on regarding the three invasions -- Operations Torch (Sicily), Avalanche (Salerno) and Normandy (Northern France) -- in the European theater in which the ship earned two battle stars.

In April 2008, we had the annual LST work week and it was quite an experience. Fifty men from eleven different states including several "Gold Crew" members, those elderly gentlemen who actually brought the ship back from Crete in 2000-2001 worked like dogs in various areas of the ship. During the week I learned the finer points of operating a needle gun to chip several coats of paint from Board member Ron Bozouska. We worked together for several days removing paint and rust from the forward starboard interior bulkhead of the tank deck.

As the months past and we continued to host tours, several volunteers encouraged me to sign up for the Mississippi River cruise in September and told stories about events of previous trips to Peoria, Cincinatti and other river destinations. About the end of the school year, I was approached by EVSC Assistant Superintendent Caitlin Gray and summer recreation program director David Schutte to put together a slide show presentation about the Evansville shipyards. With the kind help of Pat Sides, Willard Library photo archivist, I was able to access a good portion of the Jack Rusche archive, a collection of over 10,000 photographs taken for "The Invader," an in-house weekly newspaper at the shipyards.

The slide show presentation was ultimately shown to elementary and middle school students at six sites throughout the EVSC system. Some 236 students later toured the ship with some perspective as to how LST-325, although actually built in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, remains an historical artifact closely associated with this city's rich industrial wartime history.

As the weeks passed, I soon learned that I had been approved to participate in the second two weeks of the 33-day Mississippi River cruise commencing in late August. A group of us rented a car and joined the tour in Hannibal, MO on Sept. 2.

I kept a detailed personal log of what I witnessed during the cruise. Twice during the voyage up river, I pulled 4-hour shifts in the wheel house, for a time manning the throttles controlling the two, enormous Diesel engines that power the ship. Standing the watch with veteran "Gold Crew" member Don Lockas and crew member Sid Hisel, one morning at daybreak an enormous bald eagle emerged from her nest off the port bow to come out and greet us in the early morning sun. She returned to her nest at just about the time the open wheelhouse door was passing by the nest on the river bank.

Throughout her 66-year history, there have probably been over a dozen Captains and thousands of American and Greek sailors who have swabbed the decks of LST-325

In my time on the ship, it's been a hell of a ride. I have often marveled at this great ship's service with two navies and walked with humility through her decks of valor, courage and service. I have learned a lot and shared her history with many others. It has been a privilege and yet, there remains so much to be done.

Nevertheless, I am forced to join the defiant chorus of those with even longer terms of commitment and volunteer service in declaring the actions of the Board in firing Ron Crane and the Captain's behavior unacceptable. Many volunteers have been deeply hurt by what has transpired and some of them may never return to service.

We appeal to those in authority to reconsider the desires of the one versus the wants, needs, feelings and obligations of the many.

Where there is no trust or respect, there can be no leadership.

David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer.