A World War II ship that participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy is scheduled to dock in Bettendorf in August, allowing for five days of public tours and a glimpse into history.
Among those anticipating the visit is a WWII Navy veteran from Moline who knows all about the craft's history, having served 22 months on an identical vessel during the war. Roald Zvonik, 91, also was one of three Quad-City veterans who, in 2000, helped to repair the ship that will be coming to Bettendorf.
The USS Landing Ship Tank 325 — the last navigable vessel of its kind in the United States — also visited the Quad-City area in 2008, docking in Moline and Clinton, and drawing thousands of enthusiastic visitors.
In August, the vessel will be docked at the Isle Casino Hotel, and Zvonik is among those helping to organize festivities accompanying the stop, including band music and a flag ceremony.
A Landing Ship Tank, or LST, is a vessel designed to land battle-ready tanks, troops, and supplies directly onto enemy shores. The vessel coming to Bettendorf was launched on Oct. 27, 1942, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and first operated in the North Africa area, participating in the invasions at Gela, Sicily and Salerno, Italy, according to a news release from the association that owns it.
On June 6, 1944, it became part of the largest armada in history by participating in the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. It carried 59 vehicles, 31 officers and a total of 408 enlisted men on that first trip, according to the release.
When it returned to England, it carried 38 casualties. Over the next nine months, it made more than 40 trips back and forth across the English Channel, carrying thousands of men and pieces of equipment to successfully complete the liberation of Europe, according to the release.
The USS LST 325 returned to the United States in March 1945, was decommissioned in 1946 and was sent to Greece in 1964 as part of the grant-in-aid program.
In 2000, the ship was acquired by a group called the USS LST Memorial Inc., comprised of retired military men, including those from the Quad-Cities, who wanted to preserve one of the vessels as a museum.
Numerous members, paying their own way to Greece, repaired the ship that Zvonik describes as "an old piece of junk" and a crew of 29 sailed it back to the United States from the island of Crete, a journey of 6,500 miles. They arrived in Mobile, Alabama, on Jan. 10, 2001, according to the release.
Zvonik left Greece early and did not participate in the LST's journey back to the United States; those who did included the late George White, of Coal Valley, and the late Donald Chapman, of East Moline. White died in December 2009 and Chapman died in April.
Zvonik said Wednesday that LSTs were "only built to last five years" and that the craft was in much worse shape than he and other members of his group had been led to believe when they set out for Greece.
Repairs they thought might take a couple of weeks ended up taking about six months, he said. "It was a lot of work, a tremendous amount of work."
The veterans were qualified to make repairs, but they didn't have the proper machinery and, in some cases, didn't have the parts. To get around the latter, they "robbed parts off of another LST" that was in the same area, Zvonik said.
They also enlisted the aid of a Texas Congressman who secured legislation that cleared the way for them to bring the boat back.
On the voyage home, the steering went out several times, an engine was lost and there was a leak that had to be patched. To top it off, the men weren't sure they would have enough cash to pay for fuel.
In a 2007 interview with the Quad-City Times, Chapman said, "All of us, the guys that went over there, it pretty much cost us $5,000. For coming back, we thought we were going to have to pretty much max out our credit cards to get diesel fuel."
The ship has since made several tours up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers as well as the East Coast.
It is a decommissioned vessel, docked in its home port of Evansville, Indiana, where it is operated as a military museum and memorial to those who served on board LSTs during he 1940s and 1950s.
Before stopping in Bettendorf, the vessel will be in Dubuque, and after it leaves, it will travel to Chester, Illinois.