Group fights to save historic WWII ship

Laura Cruz - El Paso Times

Original source (copied here so that it doesn't vanish)

World War II veteran Joseph H. Leeah can still remember the day he saw his first Navy ship, the USS Bowie, APA 137.

"We were kids; I was barely 18," said the Northeast El Pasoan with a smile. "When we got to the beach, (the ship) was docked and the executive officer came down and gave a speech. It was a pretty emotional thing."

Leeah's ship, which assisted in the February 1945 battle of Iwo Jima, was one of 230 attack transports -- known as auxiliary fleet, personnel complement, attack force, or APA -- used during World War II to send Marines, soldiers and sailors into combat zones around the world. All but one of the ships, the USS Gage, APA 168, survive only in the memories of old sailors.

For 56 years the USS Gage, the only remaining APA and a link to the battle for Okinawa, has been tethered to the banks of the James River in Virginia. But the historical artifact could face its demise sometime next year when the Navy expects to use the vessel as part of a live-fire exercise unless an organization known as the APA Historic Preservation Project can stop the destruction.


Joe Leeah 1945 and 1996

The organization is asking the public to sign a petition via the Internet asking the U.S. Maritime Administration to spare the mothballed ship.

"They are not very pretty ships, but it's a very historical ship," Leeah, 77, who has joined the effort, said. "There are plenty of other ships the Navy can use for targets. And it's fairly easy to save it if there is enough interest."

Leeah said the ship has been inspected and appears to be in pristine shape except for flaking paint and surface rust. Reports about the Gage estimate the cost of saving the vessel and giving it a home in the largest Naval base in Norfolk, Va., range from $5 million to $10 million.


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