LCI tour brings back memories
A "reunion" of three World War II Navy veterans took place Saturday, Aug. 12, when Joe Doyon of Summerfield and Carl Finley of King City toured USS LCI (L)-713, which is being restored on Swan Island.
Landing craft infantry ships were built to transport and land up to 200 troops on beaches at Allied invasion sites and served in all amphibious actions of WWII, ferrying troop and supplies at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and going ahead of the main Allied invasion force that retook Iwo Jima in February 1945.
LCI-713's main operation during the Pacific war was delivering a company of stevedores to a landing site on the Japanese-held island of Mindanao.
The Amphibious Forces Memorial Museum, an Oregon-based 501 (c) 3 charitable nonprofit, owns the ship. The museum is a member-based organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the ship. When the museum purchased the ship in 2005, it was rusted and capsized in the Columbia River after the former owner stripped and abandoned the ship.
Every Saturday morning, museum members, most of whom are Navy veterans, gather at the ship to continue the restoration work. At 0930 they caravan through a gate and park in a secure area. Food and supplies for the day are hand-carried down a long ramp and through a boathouse that houses PT-658, the only existing, fully operational WWII patrol torpedo boat.
One of the men has to clamber aboard the LCI, open the bow and lower the ramp so the others can get on board and fire up a generator in the otherwise empty engine room to provide electric power.
Neither Finley nor Doyon served on an LCI, but stepping onboard brought back memories of their time in the service. Doyon served on a LST, or landing ship tank, which was part of a 55-ship convoy that made up Operation Overlord, the name given to the cross-channel attack by Allied forces from England to Nazi-occupied France.
Doyon was part of a four-man crew of an assault boat landing barge. They scooped up the wounded from Omaha Beach and the sea and transported them back to their ship, where medical crews waited to treat them.
Heading back to England, German E-boats — fast-attack crafts — sank ships at the rear of Doyon's V-shaped convoy. Doyon's ship was at the rear when the captain saw the Germans headed straight toward them and ordered extra speed to pass the ship in front of them; that ship was hit with a torpedo and sank.
Later Doyon was sent to Germany, where he was stationed on an assault boat and worked with other crews to construct bridges and to transport people and supplies. He was awarded a citation and Bronze Star Medal after he rescued and kept German soldiers from escaping while guarding them when their boat started to sink.
Gen. George Patton also issued a commendation for the work done by U.S. Naval Unit No. 2, in which Doyon served, for its assistance in four assault crossings of the Rhine River by the Third Army.
Finley was a Navy diver stationed aboard the USS Cascade, who repaired ships in the Pacific Fleet, following the fleet from Hawaii to Japan. The Cascade was a destroyer tender that was part of Service Squadron 10, and Finley spent more than two years on the ship, working on cruisers, Liberty ships and submarines.
Scuba diving hadn't been invented yet, and the divers didn't like the Navy-issued deep-sea diving helmets, so they converted gas masks into diving masks connected to a hoses carrying oxygen.
One of Finley's most dangerous jobs, he said, was welding a crack in a fuel tank, noting, "If I had done something wrong, I wouldn't be here today."
Finley was on the Cascade when Japan surrendered, and he ended up in Kobe as part of the occupation force, which included disarming the Japanese.
Thankfully, it was a lot quieter on LCI-713, where Doyon and Finley saw the galley, the navigation and radio room, the officers' wardroom, the executive officer's quarters, the sick bay and one of the four sleeping compartments.
Those working on the ship have researched Navy records and official documents to learn about the original equipment on the ship and have been very successful in finding original artifacts or ones from the same era such as WWII-vintage radios and a regulation Underwood Telegraphic typewriter used to copy Morse code for the radio room.
Once the tour was over, Rich Lovell served up chili and cornbread that he had made at home and reheated on the ship.
About eight volunteers worked on the ship that day and enjoyed talking to Finley and Doyon about their wartime experiences, sharing technical information about various ships' engines and armament. Finley and Doyon were likewise impressed with all the effort that has gone into restoring the LCI, although Finley had to point out a bad weld job on one wall.
"I was very impressed with the condition of the ship and how it has been restored from the condition it was found in, courtesy of the helpers who do this every Saturday," Doyon said. "They are doing an outstanding job and are a dedicated group of men to help older veterans recall memories of our days in the Navy and Navy life."
Finley added, "I have always wanted to get back on a ship. I knew about this ship, and it was a pleasure to go there. If I lived closer, I would like to help them restore it. I welded a lot of ships in my day, and I enjoyed meeting the fellows on the ship. It was a pleasure to talk to them. They are very dedicated, and it is good they are doing this. I really appreciate what they are doing."