New museum's plans abandon WWII ship

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
When a rare World War II-era landing craft was donated to the Museum of the Marine three years ago, the benefactors thought it would add a unique touch to the effort to bring a Marine Corps museum to Jacksonville.

But now the group that donated the landing ship medium - the USS LSM-LSMR Association - is afraid the museum's newly proposed location and design is leaving the ship high and dry.

"The landing craft (was) to be incorporated in the design of the museum," said David Miller, president of the association. "But nowhere does it mention a placement for the landing craft. We are very concerned as to what is going to happen to the ship and if it will ever be part of the museum."

The association donated the 500-ton relic to what was then known as the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas in January 2004. It symbolized a partnership between the Marines and the Navy, Miller said, and a highly publicized and costly endeavor, as well.

The group spent more than $500,000 transferring the ship to where it still sits at Mile Hammock Bay near the New River Inlet, Miller said.

"We also donated a check for over $36,000, and we are working on a fund drive at this time to present some more money for the upkeep of the ship," Miller said. "Back then we were promised the Marines would never let the Navy down and the ship would be an anchor point for the Marine museum."

At the time, the museum had its eye on waterfront property near the former Onslow Inn. Looking at its plans today, Miller and other Navy veterans wonder if the promise will be kept.

The USS LSM-LSMR Association consists of roughly 2,700 World War II Navy veterans who served on the same type of landing craft that took Marines ashore in the South Pacific islands. The LSM-45 is one of the last remaining ships in the United States still configured for its original purpose. The LSM was used to shuttle supplies, ammunition and equipment ashore just after the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. It was later sold to the Greek Navy and returned to the U.S. in 1998, when it was retired to the Missouri River in Omaha, Neb.

Since then, the former Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas has continued its march toward groundbreaking, renaming itself the Museum of the Marine and securing land behind the Beirut Memorial to build a $29 million facility.

But with neither water nor the LSM in the museum's new plans, Miller said he would like to know the ship's future.

"We would like to see the ship brought up on land at the site they have acquired and make it that people could go aboard and visit while they build," Miller said. "This would help bring more attention to the site."

As part of the original agreement between the two entities, the museum does give tours of the LSM twice a month for veterans who served on similar landing craft, museum executive director Jim Williams said. The Coast Guard also uses the ship to conduct boarding exercises, said retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Joe Houle, who helps maintain the ship and conduct tours.

However, a reserved spot at the new museum is highly unlikely due to cost and location, Williams said.

"There is no physical way to put it there," Williams said. "We have no plans to use the ship as part of the museum itself. It's an expensive option."

Above all, Miller said he wanted the ship up on dry land as soon as possible, a project that would require deep pockets, Williams said. But Miller's call to move the ship is more urgent this time, Miller said, due to tighter security measures at Camp Lejeune.

The base recently restricted traffic on N.C. 172, which runs through the base, to vehicles with Department of Defense decals only. The LSM-45 is off N.C. 172.

"Our main concern is people don't forget about the ship. They (need to) get this ship up someplace high and dry before it sinks," Miller said. "It's been sitting there three years now, and it's not good to be just sitting there like this."

Approximately $20 million away from the museum goal, Houle said, such a request may not be as easy as Miller thinks.

"We need a big sugar daddy who loves LSMs," Houle said.

Contact Kelley Chambers at kchambers@freedomen 353-1171, Ext. 235.

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