LST Memories: The United States LST Association
The United States LST Association
Forming It Was The Right Idea At The Time
By Mel Barger, LST-555
Although more of the difficult organizing work was done by others, I love to tell people that the United States LST Association was established in January 1985 in the living room of my home in Toledo.
It had really started the previous year when G. Wayne Hessemer, a retired Naval Reserve commander, organized an informal meeting of former LST sailors living in the Toledo area. He was skipper of LST-573, which had earned three battle stars for World War II Pacific landings, and he had gone on to command another landing ship in the Korean War. Others attending the first meeting were Don Kinney (LST-69), Bob Busch (LST-851), and Johnny Jarzeboski (LST-681).
That first informal meeting seemed charged with strong feelings of shared experience. Though none of us had been previously acquainted, our LST service created a bond. We held other meetings and by January, 1985, had formally launched the United States LST Association to include all LST veterans. All of us except Hessemer had been enlisted men, but we could now call him by his first name and weren’t even required to salute when he arrived for the meetings!
The mission of the Association was to bring LST veterans together, to help men locate their former shipmates and to publicize the role of the LST in amphibious warfare. Plans were also set to publish a book titled “Large Slow Target.” The Association would also work to bring more recognition to the role of LSTs and their crews in World War II and subsequent actions including the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The Association was fortunate in the very beginning to have a name and an attractive logo supplied by Charles Patton, the son of John Patton (LST-1153). Mr. Patton, though no longer active in the Association, also turned over rights to the logotype, which is now officially trademarked and owned by the Association.
Most of the Association’s early organizers lived in or around Toledo, including Mike Gunjak (LST-1149, converted to ARL-38), Karl Peterson (LST-911), Ralph Rogers (LST-267), and two others who are now deceased: Verle Bettinger (LST-209) and LST-378) and William Homan (LST-758). Don Kinney became our fist president and carried on much of the initial correspondence with prospective members from his florist’s shop in Toledo.
News of the LST Association traveled with surprising speed, and by 1986 we had enough members to hold our first convention, held in Toledo, with 800 persons attending.
This set the stage for our 1987 convention in Norfolk, Va., at the Omni Hotel on the Elizabeth River. Eleven hundred persons attended and the Navy cooperated by dispatching the U.S.S. Sumter (LST-1181) to the area for tours.
Following the highly successful Norfolk convention, others were scheduled for major cities around the country: San Francisco (1988); Pittsburgh (1989); St. Louis (1990); New Orleans (1991); Arlington, Va. (1992); Orlando, Fl. (1993); Las Vegas (1994); Cincinnati (1995); Boston (1996); Chicago (1997); Washington, D.C. (1998); and San Diego (1999). Buffalo has been selected for the Year 2000.
The Association outgrew the confines of my Toledo living room a long time ago, and we now have board members from other parts of the country and nearly 10,000 members.
In reviewing the Association’s accomplishments, we can say today that we’ve achieved the goals in our original mission. The Association has enabled hundreds of LST sailors to get in touch with their former shipmates. We have also been able to publicize the role of the LST in warfare; indeed, immediately after the Association was formed, the Associated Press carried an important story about our venture that resulted in national coverage. Association members also have formed state chapters and several memorials have been placed in honor of LSTs. There are still plans underway to have an LST for a historic memorial, and we are on record at the Navy Memorial in Washington.
At the time the Association was formed, we had access to a good list of LST men who had served as reunion coordinators for their own ships’ crews. My own ship, LST-555, didn’t begin having reunions until 1982, and some have bemoaned the fact that we didn’t begin meeting earlier. I suspect, however, that many of us wouldn’t have been interested in the years when we were actively employed and raising families. So it’s likely that 1985 was also a good time to launch the national Association. It was the right idea at the right time, and perhaps Toledo was even the right place. As yet, however, nobody has suggested placing a memorial plaque in our living room!