MARE ISLAND — The last of its kind, the World War II-era Landing Craft Support 102 may once again get underway if the volunteers restoring it can raise enough money to get it into a dry dock to check her propellers.
Seeing a vessel just like the one he served on in the Pacific underway again would be a dream come true for Landing Craft Support Museum President Bill Mason, who said the LCS 102 “would be the last World War II warship to have the authority to run under its own power.”
Volunteer crewman Tony Stasuik shares that dream.
“It would be a life moment if we get her underway,” Stasuik said.
Mason and Stasuik estimate it could cost about $50,000 to get into a dry dock, and that is just an educated guess. But it would be a big hurdle to cross in the seven-year effort to restore the 158-foot-long landing craft support to what it looked like during its time serving in the Pacific.
LCS 102 restoration is still a work in progress with a half-dozen dedicated volunteers, a group of U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps members and some sailors from the naval air squadron detachment based at Travis Air Force Base.
“We have the manpower, but our big problem is financing,” Mason said.
Mason figures if they can get the vessel seaworthy, they could give cruises that would go a long way to paying the ship’s expenses. It would also allow them more visibility by attending events such as San Francisco’s Fleet Week next year.
It and its wartime brethren were nicknamed the Mighty Midgets because of the firepower they could throw from close inshore to support American soldiers and Marines who were carving beachheads on islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where the LCS 102 served.
The vessel is still armed to the teeth with two 2o mm twin-gun batteries, two 40 mm twin gun batteries, two .50-caliber machine guns, two 81-inch mortars and a 3-inch gun on its bow. That doesn’t include several sets of rocket batteries that were removed from the ship when it was handed over to the Thai Navy.
It was one of 130 such vessels that were built in late 1944 and early 1945 to support the Navy’s drive across the Pacific to Japan.
They were even capable of plowing up onto the beach to deliver that firepower point-blank if needed, and then use a winch and anchor to pull themselves back into deep water once the fighting was over.
Holding about 65 enlisted personnel and six officers, interior space was cramped, a piece of information that amazes young visitors such as Sea Scouts and Sea Cadets, according to Stasuik.
Off of Okinawa, the vessels were used as picket ships to warn the Navy about incoming Japanese suicide aircraft. They were named bogey bait because the kamikazis often decided to crash into the LCSs.
Mason, who is also a San Francisco State University professor emeritus, served on LCS 86 in the Pacific and was instrumental in getting the LCS 102 to Mare Island.
LCS 102 is now part of the National Association of USS LCS (L) 1-130, which uses it as a museum and a memorial for those who served on the LCS fleet.
Mason said every day that he walks the vessel’s decks, he thinks of the guys he served with then.
“I was a gunner on that gun,” Mason said, pointing to one of the 20-mm guns on the ship. “I didn’t know how much danger I was in. When you are out there, you don’t think you will get killed.”
Mason’s vessel was one of the ones off of Okinawa that tried to fight off Japanese kamikazes, fight fires on the warships that were hit and take off sailors from sinking vessels.
One was the destroyer USS Porter, which was sunk by a kamikaze in June 1945. The kamikaze missed the destroyer, but exploded underneath her like a depth charge. Mason pointed out his LCS and another LCS successfully evacuated every sailor without losing a single man.
Because of the small ship, the crew was close-knit. Mason said he is still in contact with those who still live.
“It was our home then,” he said. “It was good duty and I enjoyed it.”
LCS 102 was built in Portland, Ore., and sailed into the Pacific in February 1945 to serve off the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It was also the first Navy vessel to enter the port of Nagasaki after the war ended, only a few weeks after the city was destroyed by an atomic bomb.
The tattered battle flag the LCS 102 flew during the war now adorns one of the vessel’s bulkheads under glass.
“The commanding officer asked to switch flags for a new one and a sailor stuffed the old one in his seabag,” Stasuik said. “He found it a few years ago in his attic and it is now our pride and joy.”
After the war, the LCS 102 was given to the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces while other LCSs ended up sold to a host of small navies such as Greece, Korea and Thailand.
In 1956, it was transferred to the Royal Thai Navy and stayed there until 2007 when it was decommissioned. After determined lobbying by Mason and others, the vessel was shipped to Mare Island.
Since 2007, the LCS 102 has migrated up and down the Mare Island waterfront while a small legion of volunteers spent long hours doing everything from restoring the vessel’s plumbing, scaping and repainting it, to rewiring the electrical system and restoring its propulsion system.
The LCS 102 is open for tours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or by appointment. For more information about volunteering or visiting the vessel, call 415-661-9279, email email@example.com or go to www.mightymidgets.org.
“Donations are a big part in keeping the ship going,” Stasuik said of what visitors give when they tour LCS 102.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.