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Brian Cabell: WWII veterans, corroded warship get hero's welcome

January 10, 2001
Web posted at: 5:10 p.m. EST (2210 GMT)

Brian Cabell
Brian Cabell  

CNN Correspondent Brian Cabell is reporting from Mobile, Alabama, where a World War II-era warship returned Wednesday to the United States after more than 50 years, brought home by a crew of veterans with an average age of 72. The crew completed the trans-Atlantic voyage in the corroded LST-325, even though the Coast Guard recommended against the trip.

Q: What condition was the boat and crew in as they pulled into Mobile?

CABELL: The ship is in remarkably bad shape. We thought it would be in better shape. It apparently is seaworthy, but you look at it and frankly it's in need of repair. We also heard there were problems with rats and cockroaches aboard the ship.

But the men themselves are in great health. We've talked with a few veterans who got off the ship and they say there are people who lost 15-20 pounds, they feel hearty and that they don't need the same medicine that they needed before.

They look good, they sound good and they feel good.

IN-DEPTH SPECIAL
 

There were concerns on the part of the families that, maybe, these men whose average age is 72 might have some problems on this voyage. But that's apparently not the case.

There were about 1,500 people here to greet them, including a marching band and various dignitaries. There were a lot of Navy and Army veterans, and a lot of schoolchildren. There were women in hoop skirts, called "Walking Azaleas" here in Mobile, to welcome the men home.

It was just an old-fashioned hero's welcome to a ship that's been overseas for more than a half century, a ship that probably never expected to come home again.

Q: What are some of the best stories you're hearing from the crew?

CABELL: There was one particular storm in the Mediterranean where the cook, who's nicknamed Cookie, said, "Now, I know the meaning of flying saucers, because that's all we had in the galley one night."

They say they reminisced for the most part and talked about good ole' times. And they got healthy. They exercised. And I guess the sea air was refreshing. We watched them getting off the ship and they looked remarkably good.

That's really the story: These men, whom the Coast Guard said might not be the best of crews and a ship that might not be the best of ships, managed to negotiate the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

We talked to one crew member and asked him why he went on the voyage. He said, "I was in the Navy for 21 years, and I just had to sail one last time."

Q: Did they run into any problems along the way?

CABELL: They ran into some very heavy seas off Athens, Greece, and were going only a knot or two a day for a while, they said, and weren't able to turn the ship very well. One engine did conk out and they had to fix that in Gibraltar. They had a rudder that needed to be repaired and they had a compass that needed to be repaired.

They had occasional rough seas and some crewmen did get seasick. But for the most part, it was relatively smooth sailing for these men.

Q: Did they have an escort in case the ship started going down?

CABELL: There was no escort nearby, but certainly everybody was aware of the ship's voyage. They made it on their own. This was a 29-member crew. They had four hours on, four hours off. These ships during wartime had crews of about 100 or so.

Again, they made it with 29 people. They all had their assigned duties and they really didn't run into any problems, except for the occasional mechanical problems.

What's remarkable is that these ships are obsolete. They haven't been used for the last couple of decades. They managed to refurbish this one and got it seaworthy and took it across the Mediterranean and Atlantic.



RELATED STORIES:
Vets prove they're seaworthy, bring WWII ship home
January 10, 2001

RELATED SITES:
United States LST Association

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