DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Appearing like a huge moving warehouse as it pierced the horizon near Decatur on Wednesday morning under overcast skies, a gray ghost of World War II eased toward Ingalls Harbor.
Several early arrivals anxious for a first glimpse at the 50-foot wide, 328-foot long USS LST-325 lined the river bank.
"Look, y'all," yelled LuLu Simmons, 66, of Athens, as the ship came into view. "I've got chill bumps."
Simmons stood with her sister, Loice Johnson, 69, of Leighton, to see the historic vessel and pay tribute to their father, who served in the Navy during World War II.
"He was on a ship, but I don't know which one," Johnson said. "Dad went into service before I was born, and I was three months old before he got to see me in Virginia at the end of the war."
Residents gathered at the front of the LST-325 as she dropped her 14-foot bow door ramp at the dock, making quite a contrast from the 90-foot long Pickwick Belle paddlewheel cruise riverboat that docked behind her.
The LST-325, now based in Evansville, Indiana, sails on educational tours with a 45-member volunteer crew once a year.
"We usually make two or three cities if they're not far apart," said Master Sgt. James "Sarge" Goodall, 75, of Owensboro, Kentucky, a retired tank commander who fought in Desert Storm in 1991. "This takes a lot of planning, but it's a job and you develop a camaraderie just as you always do in service. It never gets old."
Goodall, who has ridden the floating museum for six years, works in the wheelhouse, taking care of the throttles for the twin 99-hp engines.
The ship came to Decatur from Florence and will be open for tours today through Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will dock in Chattanooga Sept. 12-18.
The ship, which was launched Oct. 27, 1942, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and assigned to the European Theater, took part in the Sicilian occupation in July 1943 and the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. She earned two battle stars before being decommissioned on July 2, 1946, and struck from the Navy Register in 1961.
Above the 14-foot bow door ramp, the name "Syros" glistens in Greek letters. The ship was transferred to the Hellenic Navy in 1964, where she served with distinction for 36 years as Syros LST-144.
Herbert Anders, 82, of Decatur, who will be among the World War II veterans given free tours and a medallion, served in the Navy in Korea for four years, starting in 1949.
"I was a hospital corpsman and served the entire time on LST-1148," he said. "We went from San Diego to Japan, then to Inchon, South Korea, and got two battle stars."
Anders went back aboard his old ship with his wife, Willa Mae Anders, in 1998, when it was mothballed in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
"There's no telling how many half-tracks, Jeeps, bulldozers, tanks and troops I saw get off that ship," he said. "We carried a section of troops to Inchon from the Army National Guard at Decatur."
Anders first served in the Army National Guard at Hartselle.
"My commander told me we were going to be called into active duty in early 1949, so I volunteered for the Navy," he said.
Anders said he and his wife also toured the LST-325 when it docked on the Ohio River in Louisville.
"We're looking forward to getting back on the ship," he said.
Al Bingham Sr., 88, of Decatur, served on LST-921 in World War II.
"A German sub took us out when we were on the English Channel," Bingham said. "I was up in an English hospital, then they transferred me when they found out I was American and moved me to an American hospital in England to operate. I finally ended up at a hospital in New Orleans."
Bingham then boarded USS APL-10 in the South Pacific.
"We called it a floating hotel because it had no propellers," he said. "We would anchor, and it would be used for maintenance and troops. We eventually gave it to the Chinese."
Bingham's daughter, Katie Tidwell, of Decatur, will bring him for a tour of the LST-325 on Saturday. Her brother wants to join them.
"I was recently home, but I may get back and make the tour with them," said Al Bingham Jr., of Atlanta.
Joel Weinbaum, 68, of Decatur, joined the Naval Reserve in 1963 and served 24 years.
"I served on the USS Carpenter DD-825 for more than a year, and spent six months in 1966 going up and down the Vietnam coast on a destroyer," he said.
He is a keen observer of all ships, including the LST-325. He pointed to the Higgins' boats on the ship that carried troops ashore, the single and twin 40-mm guns and the rows of boxes that once held ammunition and flares.
"It was quite a ship - flat-bottom like a barge," Weinbaum said. "It is sitting there at the concrete ramp only three feet deep at the bow."
Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml