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Leathernecks give history fresh coat

By Cpl. Kim Thompson | | June 11, 2004

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Three Marines from the Air Station revived a piece of naval history last week in Charleston, S.C. when they helped to restore a World War II era Landing Ship Medium.

Corporal David W. Alexander, tower controller, Air Traffic Control, Lance Cpl. Brandon K. Metcalf, final controller, ATC, and Pfc. Jay A. Lawson, final controller ATC, worked about 11 hours a day from May 24-26 on USS LSM-45, which arrived in North Charleston May 23. The 203-foot veteran of the Pacific Campaign docked at Deytens Shipyards to get dressed for her trip to Jacksonville, N.C. where she will be a permanent exhibit at the new Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas, which is currently under construction.

The Fightertown Marines labored aboard LSM-45 in 90-degree weather scraping paint, putting up safety wire, and painting the ship to give it a little cosmetic help.

“We’re delighted to have these young Marines come and volunteer their time to give the ship some love and care,” said Rolf Illsley, organizer, Amphibious Ships Museum.

Illsley and his wife, Helen, have been working on bringing the ship to the public for about ten years. The Navy built 500 LSMs during World War II, which were eventually decommissioned and sold to various companies and countries. After LSM-45 was decommissioned in 1944, it was sold to the Hellenic (Greek) Navy. It was decommissioned in 1994, and the Illsleys were able to locate it while preparing a history book for the Amphibious Ships Museum. After four years of red tape and paperwork they brought the ship to Freedom Park, a naval museum in Omaha, Neb., but according to Illsley, the Amphibious Ships Museum wanted to donate the landing ship to the Marines.

“We feel the Marine Corps Museum is more suitable because of the ship’s history, and they will give the ship the attention it needs,” Illsley said. “It’s the Marine Corps who developed the amphibious warfare doctrine.”

Ships like as LSM-45 held a crew of 54 enlisted men and four officers, and were used in the Pacific to transport equipment, supplies and troops during the final campaigns of World War II.

“There’s a great deal of history here,” said Joe Houle, director Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas . “This ship actually landed equipment and supplies in the battle of Okinawa, and it’s the only one that will remain intact and on permanent display.”

The ship departed Charleston on Sunday morning to make its way toward a new permanent home at the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas. According to Houle, LSM-45 will be there because of the work done by volunteers.

“There are many people that worked hard to make this happen,” Houle said. “I’m proud of these Marines. They came out here and did the work of at least six men.”

According to Alexander, the group of Air Station Marines were not aware of the history they were going to help preserve.

“We weren’t exactly sure what we would be doing,” Alexander said. “We just like volunteering around the community…. but now that we know more (about the history of the ship) it’s pretty cool.”

The ship arrived in Mile Hammock Bay at Camp Lejeune, N.C. on June 2 where it will be moored temporarily until it is moved to a permanent home at the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas.
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