WWII landing craft makes Astoria its permanent home as a floating museum"When you show up with a vessel like this, you get discovered."
Walt James and the rest of his volunteer crew are inviting local residents to discover LCI 713, the World War II vessel that is making Astoria its new home.
The restored ship, pushed by a tug, landed at Pier 39 Saturday afternoon after a two-day voyage from Scappoose. The former landing ship, along with a second vessel due to come to Astoria next year, will be open to the public at the former cannery complex as the Amphibious Forces Maritime Museum.
There's still considerable work needed to get the former Landing Craft Infantry ship-shape for visitors, but the volunteers, who've already put in as many as six years of weekends restoring the old vessel, will continue working each Saturday to finish the job. And they invite local vets, military history fans and others to join them.
TOM BENNETT - The Daily Astorian
Visitors check out the view from the "conn" of LCI 713 after its arrival at Pier 39.World War II veteran David McKay watched from the dock as the 713 pulled in. McKay is one of the handful of veterans and history buffs who've donated their Saturdays to help restore the ship, which once carried soldiers to invasion beaches in the Pacific.
"It looked beautiful," he said.
Pier 39 owner Floyd Holcom barbecued chicken and hot dogs for the crew as the ship drew in Saturday. The floating museum, he said, will make a great addition to his project, itself a restoration effort on a historic structure. Holcom has turned the former cannery complex into a mixed-use development with offices, suites and boat storage.
"It's really a good fit," he said.
Currently docked on the north side of the complex, the ship will eventually be moved to the landward side where it will be visible from the River Walk trail.
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"We're happy to be here," said volunteer Larry Martin. "We see ourselves as a good addition to Astoria - we feel real good here."
The group, which hosted a reunion for landing craft vets on board the 713 last May, is already receiving inquiries from other veterans groups interested in bringing gatherings to Astoria.
Among the handful of friends and relatives welcoming the 713 was Martin's grandfather, Reino Mattilla, longtime skipper of the Salvage Chief. The Astoria-based rescue tug is itself a renovated World War II landing craft.
"He was real proud," Martin said. "He knows how hard this group has worked on this."
Once fully refurbished and docked, the ship will be available for public tours, school field trips, veterans reunions and other events.
TOM BENNETT - The Daily Astorian
Brothers Cory and Chad Parsons, wearing World War II navy attire, join LCI veteran David McKay on the dock.James and the volunteers first have to deal with some stringent U.S. Coast Guard regulations. If the group charges admission to sight-seers, they must comply with regulations for carrying passengers - even if the ship is firmly tied up to the dock. The group intends to make the ship safe to visitors, but to avoid some of the more stringent requirements, they're seeking to have the 713 officially declared a "permanently moored vessel," James said.
But sometime in the future, the group wants to complete the vessel's restoration by making it seaworthy and offering voyages on the river. But that plan is still "several phases down the road," requiring costly work including a major refit of the ship's bottom and installation of new engines.
"That's definitely a dream for the future, not anytime soon," James said.
The group hopes that next year the 713 will be joined at Pier 39 by the Washtenaw County, a 1950s-era landing ship currently moored in Rainier. Holcom said he and the group are still pondering the best location for that ship, which is 21/2 times the size of the 713.
Brothers Chad and Cory Parsons of North Plains were among the volunteer restorers who sailed with the 713 Saturday. They also serve as interpreters for visitors, dressing in authentic wartime outfits and providing a glimpse of life aboard the tiny ships.
"Everyone's familiar with the battleships and aircraft carriers, but not so much with the landing craft. But they were the backbone of the Navy, transporting all the troops," Cory said. "We're trying to make it known to the public what they did."
Even with all the work still ahead for he and his group, James found another project for the crew - on the voyage down to Astoria, he spied on the shore what appeared to be the pilot house and bridge of another World War II landing ship, this one the rarer square-shaped design found on the first generation of LCIs.
"It was an amazing coincidence," he said.