An estimated 5,000 people visited the floating museum that is USS LST 325 during its visit to The Red Carpet City, said Kenneth Frank, president of the USS LST Ship Memorial Inc.’s Board of Directors.
“We had two light days, which were today (Tuesday) and Friday, but those are regular week days. We did very well over the weekend,” Frank said. “Saturday, Sunday and Monday we had a nice turn out.”
The ship, which has been in Vicksburg since Thursday, departed from the City Front yesterday evening around 6:30 p.m., beginning its five-day trek back to its homeport in Evansville, Ind., on the Ohio River.
Of those 5,000 visitors, 185 were students in elementary through high school that went on a tour of the warship that served during World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.
“The people who mostly come seem to be older people who are interested in history, but we did get a really good turn out from the school groups,” he said. “We had quite a few on Friday and Monday. It was a nice turn out of the schools and some of the teachers came really prepared with lesson plans and questions and so on and so forth. The kids are very well behaved.
“All the people who came on board were amazed, flabbergasted and impressed with the size of it, that it got here on its own power and that it’s so well preserved for being 74 years old,” he added.
The proceeds from the tickets sold in Vicksburg —as in any other place — go toward “expenses to operate as well as to refurbish it,” Frank said.
The money raised during their yearly trip is their main source of income, Frank said, but donations, memberships and gift shop purchases also help fund USS LST 325.
“It requires constant maintenance like all boats,” he said. “The maintenance that we do, the painting is all to keep it looking good. There’s a lot of work we put into the engines because it’s the engines that let us go places.”
The largest expense, he said, is fuel, as expected in as ship that get 5 miles to the gallon.
“We burn 1,200 gallons a day when we’re underway roughly,” he said.
Even when the ship is docked at a port, it still requires 200 gallons of gas for its onboard generators, he added.
Besides gas, the second largest expense is feeding the crew of 50 three meals a day, which runs about $500 a day, he said.
“We come from 15 different states,” he said of the crew. “Once a year we come together to sail it. We also come together two other times a year to do a weeks worth of maintenance. We have about 15 guys on board who actually served on (this type) of ship in World War II, Vietnam and Korea, and the reason is that these ships were around from 1942 all the way up to the late 60s. They were used that whole time, almost three decades.”
Frank estimated most of the volunteer crewmembers are U.S. Navy veterans, about 10 percent are Army veterans with the Coast Guard and the Marine Corp also represented. Several crewmembers did not serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, he added.
Plans for next year’s trip are already away, Frank said, with people planning to make visits to next year’s ports, just as they did in Vicksburg, after the cities are picked in January.
“We have a cruise committee that goes out and visits each city for three days and work with the (business bureaus) to get all resources lined up: find out if you’re interested and find out if we’re interested,” he said. “When we come, we need the support of local people. We can’t just pull up and drop the ramp and expect people to come.
“This has been a great town,” Frank said. “The guys seem to have had a good time. It’s just been a good visit.”