From: Peter Stoudt
To: Russ_Padden ; Amphibs
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Jason McDonald ; Jason McDonald ; Rich Angelini ; Angelini Richard M NPRI
Sent: Friday, August 23, 2002 4:05 PM
Subject: Re: Amphib Memorial - Saving the Last APA The USS Gage APA 168
Thank you for your messages & by copy of this message I'm also thanking Tom Gonzalez for finding you folks. Yes there is a WWII APA left. Actually four remain -- 3 of which "were" APAs at one time but have been extensively modified or partially scrapped. Let me tell you a little about the other three first:
1. Crescent City APA-21 -- The Crescent City is the only one of the four remaining WWII APAs that isn't a Haskell class Victory ship. It was one of the early APAs that was converted from civilian use. Ironically it is the only one of the four that seems to be guaranteed of surviving at this point. It is a very historic ship and has 10 battle stars from the Pacific campaign. As far as I know, it's the only ship left in existence that is a Guadalcanal veteran. After the war, the Crescent City was converted back to civilian use and became the Golden Bear training ship for the California Maritime Academy. A number of years ago she was retired and placed back into reserve at Suisun Bay, CA. A couple years ago, she was acquired by an organization in Oakland CA and brought there and renamed Artship. Today she is in the process of becoming the International Peace University (or something to that effect). We are very interested in historic ship preservation and will support most any appropriate use for a historic ship as long as it is preserved. However, we are disappointed that the Artship group makes virtually no mention of the Crescent City and her incredible and historic wartime history. That's unfortunate; perhaps we can help change that at some point. However, it is important to point out that the Crescent City/ Golden Bear/ Artship was significantly modified from its WWII appearance when it re-entered civilian use. So in that sense it is no longer an "originally configured" WWII APA anyway regardless of its historical significance.
2. Lauderdale APA-179 -- All three of the surviving Haskell class attack transports are in the James River Reserve Fleet off Ft. Eustis in Newport News, VA. One of them is the Lauderdale. The Lauderdale and Gage were both built at Kaiser's Oregon Shipbuilding in 1944. Like the Gage and your father's ship, the Neshoba, the Lauderdale is an Okinawa veteran, although not in the initial April 1 assault like the other two. The problem with the Lauderdale is that she is beyond saving. Several years ago she was sold for scrap and the actual demolition process began. She was significantly destroyed in the process. I've been told that the scrapping company went out of business, but whatever the reason the process of demolition was stopped and she was brought back to the James River fleet where she sits today as a massive rusting hulk. She is so dangerous that Marad doesn't even allow their own crews on her unless it's absolutely necessary. Recently, she was supposed to have been towed to Brownsville, TX for scrapping but she is now in such an advanced state of deterioration that they could not secure insurance for the tow. Marad is presently considering other options. We had hoped that she might prove useful as a source of parts for the Gage, but even that seems doubtful b/c she was so extensively stripped during her demolition.
3. Sherburne APA-205 -- Another Haskell and the only one left in existence to have been built at Kaiser's Permanente Metals yards in Richmond, CA -- like her sisters Neshoba and the Iwo flagraiser's Missoula. The Sherburne was also in Tokyo Bay for the surrender. However, in the 1950s (or 60s) she was modified (in many ways rebuilt) as the Range Sentinel AGM-22 a missile-tracking ship. If you check out the pictures of her at Navsource you'll note that she bears little resemblance to a Haskell except for the obvious look of the Victory hull. The chance of restoring her to her WWII appearance is remote & probably prohibitively expensive even if could be done. However, she might be of real value as a source of parts for the Gage especially in the engineering spaces and parts of the ship that weren't changed.
That brings us to the USS Gage APA-168, by a fluke of history the sole surviving originally configured Haskell class attack transport of the 119 that were built, as well as the sole surviving APA of any class in original configuration of the 230 that saw service in WWII. Named for Gage County Nebraska, the Gage was built at Kaiser's Oregon Shipbuilding in Portland, OR in 1944. Her first skipper was Leroy J. Alexanderson who commanded the ship at Okinawa. After the war Alexanderson returned to civilian maritime pursuits and rose to be a commodore of the U.S. Lines and as such was the last skipper of the S.S. United States. Today, he is 92 years old and lives in Hampton Virginia just a few miles from where the Gage is. It is interesting to note that at this writing the Gage, the SS United States and Commodore Alexanderson all still exist. Recently, Commodore Alexanderson was honored aboard the S.S. American Victory in Tampa and was made the Commodore of the American Victory. He is probably the pre-eminent living civilian mariner in America. Alexanderson is also a retired Admiral in the Naval Reserve. Recently he and many of the Gage's WWII crew members held what they believe will be their last reunion in Atlantic City.
On April 1, 1945 Alexanderson commanded Gage as it participated in the initial assault at Okinawa. She carried the 3rd Battalion, 4th Regt. 6th Marine Div., along with a Seabee unit and other personnel, into battle. This battalion had been one of the famed Marine Raider battalions before being incorporated into the 4th Marine Regt. This unit took horrendous casualties, and I believe they were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for Okinawa. The Gage herself spent several days off the beach during the battle under constant kamikaze alert. She received her one battle star for Okinawa.
After Okinawa, the Gage made various trips across the Pacific and was preparing for the invasion of Japan in Seattle when the war ended. After the war , she made a number of Magic Carpet voyages. Her final voyage was made in late 1946 when she transited the Panama Canal and sailed into the Atlantic for the first and only time on her way to Norfolk. She was decommissioned and placed into reserve in Feb 1947 in Norfolk. She has either been in Portsmouth or on the James River ever since. After a little more than two years of active duty she has now been in reserve for more than 55 years. She was never used again and in that sense is a "pristine" WWII vessel in history and configuration. And while many of her sister ships were used in Korea, Vietnam and for other duty she has quietly floated for more than a half century in the Norfolk- Hampton Roads area. This is a historic ship.
I am part of a group of volunteers operating under the name of the Victory Conservancy (although that may become the Victory Trust). Anyway, we're an outgrowth of an organization called the Iron Woman Foundation that attempted to save the USS Cabot CVL-28 a couple years ago. We worked with the National Trust for Historic Preservation but were not successful mainly because the ship was already in the berth where it was later scrapped and we just didn't have time.
However, after we lost the Cabot, we were disbanding and some of the staff of the National Trust suggested that we might want to remain intact and focus on other historic properties that haven't been saved yet. Some one from the National Trust pointed out that there is no National Trust for ships or for historically significant artifacts from the great conflicts of the 20th century. If there had been such an organization in place perhaps an effort to save the Cabot could have been established earlier and would have stood a chance of success.
So we came together again under the new name the Victory Conservancy. We read where Marad planned to liquidate the remaining WWII ships in its inventory by 2006. As far as we knew no one had ever done a historic survey of the Marad fleets, so we thought that's where we'd start. We examined a few score ships in all three Marad reserve fleets (James River VA, Beaumont TX and Suisun Bay CA). We found seven ships that we believe have exceptional historic significance and would merit a preservation effort. History was our only guide. We did not take the condition of the vessels into consideration mainly b/c we weren't in a position to determine their condition.
The Gage was the unanimous choice of our group as the most historically significant ship in the Marad inventory. (It was nearly a toss up with the Gen. John Pope for first place. Others included the Hannibal, Winthrop, Sioux Falls and Maritime Victorys as well as the Liberty ship Arthur M. Huddell.) This last spring Mr. Alyn Fife, a well known and respected marine surveyor in the Hampton Roads area, surveyed the ship along with a couple of marine engineers and myself. While much has been stripped from the ship (including her guns), we found her to be in remarkably good shape, especially in her engineering spaces. She's rusty topside and her hull needs to be gauged to determine its condition. The consensus was that she's in good enough shape to mount an exploratory effort for her preservation.
To that end we've created the Gage Preservation Exploratory Committee to determine the feasibility of her preservation. Clearly a preservation effort takes a considerable amount of resources, a venue, expertise, materials, information and the involvement of many supportive people. At present we are attempting to put together such a program. Not long after we surveyed the Gage I received a message from Andres Hark from Marad about Tom Gonzalez's interest in the ship. As you know Tom is a naval veteran, served aboard the Rockbridge APA-228 and is very knowledgeable about APAs. He also lives near Norfolk, VA. So Tom has joined the Gage Preservation Exploratory Committee. At present it includes myself, Tom, Commodore Alexanderson and John Timmel the president of the American Victory in Tampa. (John is an enthusiastic preservationist and has done a wonderful job with the American Victory. He's aware that the Gage is the sole surviving military version of a Victory ship and he would like to help us save her. He also is part of the Victory Conservancy (Trust) and we are currently exploring the possibility of joining the Vic. Con. with John's Victory Ship, Inc.) Alyn Fife, our marine surveyor is also part of this group.
There are also two other members of the Victory Conservancy eager to be involved in the preservation of the Gage. One is Jason McDonald, who is the multimedia director for the UN International School (UNIS) in New York City and the creator/owner of worldwar2database.com. The other is Rich Angelini, a software engineer for the Navy in Newport RI and the asst. curator of the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy at Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA. Both of these young men are very knowledgeable and can probably help us initially develop a website for the Gage.
Our initial task was to have the ship surveyed, which Mr. Fife did pro bono. He is currently working on trying to get someone to gauge the hull. Also, even though we are interested in any prospective venues for the ship in the country, we have initially decided to explore possibilities in the Norfolk- Hampton Roads area. To that end I have been working to get the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot to do a story on Commodore Alexanderson and the Gage and our effort to preserve her. We hope to develop a preservation group in the area. However, we need to develop a national following as well. To that end, we need to develop a website for the project and then have it linked to websites like yours. Also, we need to cultivate support through naval amphibious, Marine Corps veterans' and historic preservation organizations and websites like yours.
At present I am developing a "pre-business plan proposal" that outlines the historical significance of the Gage and offers a general approach to her preservation. Armed with that and the website (and the proposal will be on the website too) we hope to begin to develop the support necessary to preserve her. Clearly, we have to be realistic; the current economic situation is not favorable to a multi-million $ preservation project. Nevertheless, if we can generate interest, identify some prospective venues and resources, develop a viable business plan and organization, gain political and veteran support and get some money into organizational account, then we could petition Marad to assign the title to the preservation non-profit organization and keep the ship from being scrapped while we further develop the effort. You don't find a venue or gain the resources until you have developed a viable organization with a solid plan. We have to do that first. This is where all of us can help.
Please feel free to forward this message to anyone you see believe would be interested. Allow me to make one suggestion about the information on your website. I'm not certain it is a good idea to publish Andres Hark's email address. He is a vessel custody analyst for Marad. I know that he endures a considerable amount of inquiries and requests about many of the ships in the Marad fleets, and I know that this is sometimes a problem for him simply because of the sheer volume. I believe he is happy to help us anyway he can. He has already provided Tom Gonzalez and myself with information about requirements Marad has for ship donations (which centers mostly around a viable business plan, venue and resources).
One thing that you -- or APA organizations -- might do is to contact Andres. tell him you support the effort to preserve the Gage and request a moratorium on the stripping of her. Outside of the time factor and the challenge of gaining resources, the stripping issue is of paramount importance. Museum ships along the eastern seaboard have been stripping the Gage for the last few years. She is now the prime target of these groups. We have contacted Andres Hark and requested that a moratorium be placed on her stripping to give us enough time to develop a preservation effort. Her engineering spaces are in very good condition and they are now targeted by these other museum ships who want to stockpile WWII artifacts. I've asked Andres if they couldn't send the stripping parties to the Marine Fiddler or one of the other WWII ships that won't be saved. The most important thing we can do now is inform people of the historic significance of the Gage and stop any further degradation of her condition.
Well, that's about it. I know this message is a little long, but I think it gives a fairly good overview of the situation, which was my intent. If folks who receive this have particular skills, knowledge or interest that they believe would be of help, please contact me at the numbers below or contact Tom Gonzalez. By the way, I live in Albemarle County Virginia near Charlottesville about two hours from the Gage by I-64. I am a writer working on a book about the Normandy Invasion at the moment, and I am very busy with that. Nevertheless, I hope to get the pre-business plan proposal done soon & out to everyone. Perhaps then we can move ahead to actually establish a preservation group. If anyone around the country has any ideas about a prospective venue for the Gage, let me know. Much fund raising will have to be tailored to the locality. Our thinking at this moment is the Norfolk area (or elsewhere in the Chesapeake area -- Quantico?) on the east coast or possibly the Portland OR area (where she was built) on the west coast. (But that's a big tow.) By the way, we also want to explore the possibility of eventually having her an operational ship like the other civilian Victory ships that are preserved. That is more expensive but these operational museum ships also gather large followings and almost achieve cult-like status. (However, we don't even know if that is an option. That's one reason we want the moratorium placed on her stripping -- especially in her engineering spaces, which appear to be in great condition.)
Thank you for your interest. I hope this screed has been informative. To get back to your original statement -- yes, there is one Haskell class attack transport from WWII still in existence & she is a veteran of the last great battle of the Second World War. By ship, class and type she is historic. She should be saved and preserved for future generations if at all possible. She has a story to tell. World War II couldn't have been fought, much less won, without the APAs. Their story is as valid to save for posterity as an aircraft carrier. There is plenty of room in this effort to save her for all interested parties. Welcome aboard and thanks for putting the information about the Gage on your website.
I took photos of the Gage on our survey which I will send out to everyone in the next few days.
2278 Chapel Spring Lane
Free Union, VA 22940