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USS LST 393 honors America's veterans | News

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USS LST 393 honors America's veterans
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MUSKEGON (WZZM) - There are a ton of great places to go and things to do in West Michigan. So many in fact, many of them often go unnoticed. One of those hidden treasures is sitting on the Muskegon waterfront just 41 miles from downtown Grand Rapids.

To the thousands of people passing by every day the USS LST 393 may seem like an old hunk of steel docked on Muskegon Lake and a large but somehow inconspicuous remnant of days long past.

"This ship came to Muskegon in the late 40's and the bow was boarded up and it became a cross lake freighter for a couple of decades," said John Stephenson, board president of the LST 393 Veterans Museum. "Then it sat unused for a couple of decades and people kind of got the impression that it was a crummy old freighter and it would eventually be a barge or go out and be sunk for scrap."

The ship's preservation association had bigger plans.

"I'm the only one who has been here the entire seven years. When we started this it was just a rusty, leaky dirty wreck. It was just terrible. It took us the first four years to get it in any kind of condition to let the public in. Since then it has just been gangbusters," said Dan Weikel, curator and Veterans coordinator."

This war ship turned floating veterans museum is steeped in history and honor. She was commissioned in December of 1942 and was 1,051 landing ship tanks built to transport troops, tanks and equipment into World war Two.

Weikel says people know a lot more about the ship than they did seven years ago but too many don't know that once they step inside the main deck they can't help but sense how special the place is.

"You are walking where heroes walked," said Stephenson. "This is one of the most priceless, American historical artifacts anywhere. There is only two of these ships left and these ships helped win the war. Eisenhower said we couldn't have won W.W.II without LSTs"

And for the small cost of admission visitors can touch a piece of history for themselves.

The ship has thousands of artifacts and documents and hundreds of books. It is open to the public between May through September and appeals to people of all generations. During tours visitors can roam the five decks. Exhibits include the main deck with a wall of honor photos of service men and women as well as the actual damaged and smoke stained battle flag that flew over USS LST 393 when it landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944.

"Every time I think about what this flag saw and what it meant, it just gives me the shivers," said Stephenson.

Other exhibits include the berthing deck, where combat troops slept, engine room, officers' staterooms complete with authentic letters and photos, and the galley.

Weikel said, "The cooks were so proud of what they did on these ships. Even in combat there was never a time when there wasn't a hot meal for the troops."

He says another popular place on the ship is the chart room, complete with maps and authentic radio equipment.. It is a place where some of the nation's most important decisions were made.

"If they were going to Omaha Beach, if they were going to invade Italy, they had to mark where they were and plot a course," said Weikel of the place he considers one of the most important on the ship.

Visitors can also check out the captain's quarters, sick bay or they can stand at the helm or visit the troop messing deck. One of the original messing decks is now a hall of uniforms filled with combat boots, uniforms, hats and helmets to honor veterans.

"I'm a veteran myself and I think the veterans represent the best that America has," said Weikel. "To be able to represent them and honor them and to show the public what these men and women sacrificed is inspiring to me. It keeps me going."

Stephenson feels the same way. "Our mission is to honor America's veterans from all the wars and to educate the various generations who might be losing touch with the important things America's heroes did," he said.

"It is a very cool place to come. This ship was in three invasions. It went all over the Atlantic and Mediterranean and carried soldiers, equipment and tanks and artillery to places where they had to go to war."

There is so much to do and see on the LST 393 people should come prepared to be carried into another place and time and expect to leave with a new appreciation for the men and women in uniform.

"We like to say the spirits of all those sacrificed veterans are still walking around," said Weikel.

Tour admission is $6 adults, $4 for students and kids under five get in free. The ship is located at 560 mart street in the heart of downtown Muskegon. And, on Friday nights during summer months they show free movies on the top deck of the ship out in the open air.

For more information about tours or events held on the ship click here. 

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