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USS LST 596
A WWII VOYAGE
From September 1944 until March 1946, Tom served as a Seaman First Class aboard the USS LST 596 in the Pacific theater of WWII. This is the story of his voyage, taken from excerpts of his letters compiled by my grandmother.
I'm sure all of the sailors aboard LST 596 had similar experiences. I hope this story brings back fond memories or helps to relate to a family member what the experience was like.
LST 596 Lt. Commander Sidney Muskin
Photos courtesy of Dave Kagan
The LSTs, or Landing Ship Tanks, were developed during WWII thanks to Winston Churchill, who wanted a way to unload tanks and heavy equipment directly onto a beach. With a length of 327' and a beam of 50', these "Large Slow Targets" as they were affectionately known, had a speed of about 11 knots. A typical crew was 7 officers and 200 enlisted. The topside could carry smaller craft, and there was a tunnel-like hold that carried vehicles or other cargo. The ships proved so versatile that over 1000 were built for the U.S. Navy for use in World War II.
An LST like Tom's
LST 596 was built by the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Co., and launched on August 21, 1944. It was sponsored by Mrs. Palmer L. McMichael and was commissioned on September 14, 1944. The story of her crew really begins at Camp Bradford, Virginia, the naval training base set under pine trees and along the banks of Chesapeake Bay. From there, the men "rode the rails" to Chicago, then Evansville, where they boarded the ship that would be their home for over a year. Slowly cruising south along the Mississippi River, they passed the peaceful green fields of Tennessee and Arkansas, then emerged into the rocky waters of the Gulf. After a short liberty and some repair work, the ship headed through the Panama Canal and out into the open Pacific.
For men like my dad who often had the midnight watch, the long nights of staring out over moonlit water must have been a time of anticipation, exciting yet fearful, as they sailed toward the small islands caught up in the war. They traveled in and around New Hebrides, New Guinea, the Philippines, north to Okinawa, Korea, Japan and China, before finally heading home. They were fortunate to arrive when the war was coming to a close, and they did not have to join any battles. But there were a few terrifying, dangerous moments amid the long hours of hard work and the novel adventures of the Orient.
Before boarding the ship, an LST sailor's experience began at the national training base at Camp Bradford, Virginia. Tom arrived Camp Bradford at 3:30 P.M. on July 4, 1944. "I took a look around the camp and it isn't too bad. The PX or SS is a larger one than Lake City's [Naval Training Station, Lake City, Florida]. There is a theater, a large drill hall, skating rink [my dad loved to skate], sidewalk photo and picture shows." Here the seamen took classes, climbed ropes, learned to work on the diesel engines and radios, and load the guns. They trained in signalling, gunnery, and damage control, practicing fires and gas attacks.
|July 12, 1944||"Over and over, we
repeat; one hour of athletics, one hour of knot tying, one hour of lecture, etc. The
beach is on a large bay, full of jelly-fish. I found that out when we had our first
swimming lesson. I had not been in five minutes before I was full of sting.
We muster four times a day, meaning we are either on the run or walking all the
|July 17, 1944||"I've been assigned
to crew 4580, which means I will train two weeks for sea-duty. Then one week at
fire-fighting, then for two weeks we go on a shakedown cruise. Then we return to
port and go for our ship."
|July 26, 1944||"Work! We just
go all the time. Fought fire yesterday and Friday thru Monday we were on the
|August 16, 1944||"We left for
ship Thursday, pulled out about 1300, then anchored out of Norfolk Operation Base, until
Monday. Then weighed anchor, sailed just north of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake
Bay. Anchored for that night. Next day we ran drills. Wednesday, we fired
on surface targets in A.M. and target towed by a plane in P.M. Not bad shooting,
even if I was the gunner. We shoot 40 mm and it throws a shell 15 inches long.
Throws it for 4000 yds with explosive action at the end of the trip. Weighs 1.7
lbs. There is no covering, so if the planes dive, it is them or us. Thursday
we took lessons in beaching. Friday, we beached, took on and let off tanks, on the
Maryland coast.... Sunday we had drill and operations of the LST. Monday, we sailed
into Ocean View and could see the boardwalk all lighted up. Practiced tying up with
another ship. Then pulled into Little Creek Harbor and docked for the night."
|August 22, 1944 Chicago, Illinois, USA||"We left for
Chicago and rode the rails, until Monday. Are now at Navy Pier. We are to get
into bunks by 10:00 P.M. Hit the deck at 6:04 A.M. Go to chow, rushing like
'heck' back to fall in for muster. Noon we go to chow, fall in for muster at 12:45
then have afternoon for work; morning for washing. Liberty is from 5:00 until 1:00
A.M. From Saturday noon until Sunday midnight, we can go 75 miles. No
leave.... We don't know how long we will be here but we go to Evansville, Ind., for our
own ship, when we do leave."
||At the end of the month, Tom got to spend
some time with a friend, Jim Anders, and had a couple of dates with someone named
Sylvia. The weather was clear and cold as they left Chicago on September 2 for the
Great Lakes Gunnery, where they would stay for a week. From Great Lakes, they
traveled via Chicago to Evansville, arriving at 8:30 P.M. on September 8. "Got our gear, unloaded and hit the sack about 1 o'clock.
Pulled out today at 1600 and are proceeding slowly down the river towards New
Orleans. It will take us five days. We will have two days there, then another
shakedown cruise. Our skipper takes over at New Orleans. I saw 13 DC-3's fly
over today and they were beautiful."
|September 11, 1944||"We are
averaging about 15 knots. Passed Memphis, Tenn. and Arkansas City, Ark., since
600 this A.M. That was with the tide. It is peaceful along here. The
trees are so green and the land looks that way, so much green grass along the banks.
The sky is blue, and there are a few scattered clouds. I can see a DC-3 or a C-47
flying over in the East, making a beautiful picture for a memory scrap-book."
14, 1944 New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
||"We have reached New
Orleans. The weather is hot and yet we have to wear shirts (regulations). I'm
just wondering when I'll get liberty."
|September 17, 1944||"Got liberty at 1:30 P.M.
Saw Chico Marx in person. Went to the USO, had supper, then attended their evening
half-hour service. Was then taken on a wiener roast. Seven girls and seven
sailors. We had a nice time; eating, telling jokes and were back at the USO by
9:30. Tried to call home but couldn't get thru. Our mail will now be
censored. The Ensign told us what we could write, what not to write. In fact,
he all but wrote the letter."
|October 10, 1944 Gulf of Mexico||"We have been out about a week,
near Panama City, with no liberty, and a day and night at sea. We used the latter
for firing at aircraft and sea targets. Rolled quite a bit at times, but that didn't
bother me. Three-fourths of the ship was sea-sick, tho. We had two weeks
shake-down; a lot of watches (in port, sea and messenger), also war-cruising
watches. Gets dark about 6:30. One night we took on six ducks. For three
nights we had but three hours of sleep. Sometimes the porpoise play along in front
of us. It was fun watching them. Some P-40's came buzzing by today, and made
my heart go skyward."
|October 11, 1944||"I had messenger watch.
Another boy had the gang-way duty. We look up passes, keep the ship's log,
etc. These watches last four hours. We were on the 12-4; then I had the same
in the P.M. and midnight. We will be here until Sunday, as they are welding and
|October 17, 1944||"We have a mascot, a pup, about
6" x 4". Bet he'll get sea-sick. We are still in
It is rather chilly and we had some winds from that storm which crossed Havana the other
day. We took on some new men when we were in New Orleans the other day. One
replaced the gun captain on my gun. That makes four we have had. The first had
a medical discharge; two and three 'went over the hill'. This #4 started out with
the first LSTs."
|October 21, 1944||"We have finally gotten underway
for the Canal."
|October 30, 1944 Coco Sola, Panama||"Tomorrow is Halloween and how I
wish I could be home. This base is better than the one at Lake City. We
arrived here the 26th. We had some rough weather coming down and some of the guys
were sick. I like to be on top-side where I could see things rock. I've had
two liberties. On one, I ran into some of the guys who left Lake City before I did,
coming straight down here from the metal shops. Also saw some who had gone right to
sea-duty from Lake City. Had some pictures made and mailed home."
|November 3, 1944||"We went through the Canal the 29th and have been at sea ever since. I think everyone on ship is homesick. I've been assigned to the small boat crew. That will bother me only when we have rough seas. It is hard to come along side the ship when we are rolling. It is awfully hard to keep awake while on watch, too, standing first on one foot, then the other."|