May 9, 2004 – Picture the big players of World War II. Armored tanks rolling across beaches, infantry troops carrying weapons on their backs ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. These were some of the heroes of the war.
Oh, and dont forget the landing ship-tanks, also known as LSTs, flat bottomed boats, which served as freighters, carrying those very same tanks and troops into battle. Never heard of them? That doesn't surprise veterans Clarence W. Anderson and Bill Schutz, who once served on these wartime vessels.
"The LSTs were not your famous ships or anything else. They were just something that appeared on the horizon after the war got started, and they were gone after the war was over," says Schutz. "You never heard anything about them. About the only ones that knew about an LST were the army and marine guys and the only thing that they had nice to say was that the food was good. They didnt like the ride."
"Boy they'd get sick," Anderson adds.
Both Anderson, 84, and Schutz, 80, of Denver, Colo., were part of the original crew of 68 seamen on the LST 467. The wreck of this ship happens to be a favorite of divers on St. Thomas. Known as WIT Shoal II, many considered it one of the best dives in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Once a wartime freighter, it's now a burgeoning wildlife refuge in an otherwise barren seascape, home to southern and spotted eagle rays, horse-eyed jack, turtles, and Baz and Babs the resident barracuda. There are five levels of deck to explore, from the pilothouse down to the bottom of the hold.
The wreck site has always fascinated Harrison (Aitch) Liddle of Blue Island Divers. Determined to find out more about the ship, he began tracing its history back to the war. Four years of research eventually led to Anderson and Schutz. A reunion was planned.
On Thursday, Anderson and Schutz, along with friends and family, were able to see the ship in her watery home from the windows of the Atlantis Submarine. In a feat of underwater choreography, Liddle arranged for a group of divers to go down at the same time. The group included four of Schutz's sons as well, as several other family members and friends. "It's amazing that this has been out there all this time," Schutz said when the ship came into view.
The WIT Shoal II was rechristened the LST 467, and a bronze plaque was placed on the stern fantail near Schutzs old general quarters position for future divers to see. For Liddle, it was the culmination of a four-year dream. "It was better than I thought it ever could be," he said. "The family was such a great bunch of people. It just felt right."
Bill Hurst, the last person to sail the WIT Shoal II, was also on board and meeting him helped bring the reunion full circle for the veterans. "We were the first guys and you were the last guy. How many ships can you say that about?" Schutz said.
The LST 467 was launched from Vancouver, Wash., in November of 1942. Anderson worked as a petty officer second class and Schutz as a machinist. Anderson was reassigned to the LST 478 after six weeks, but Schutz spent 20 months on the ship working in the engine rooms.
After the war, the LST 467 crew went their separate ways after the war and so did the ship. Decommissioned and struck from the Navy list in the spring of 1946, the LST 467 was sold to the National Metal and Steel Corporation. After changing hands a few more times, it was finally bought by the West Indian Trading Company in 1973 and named the WIT Shoal II. The ship had various uses there, including carrying wood pulp, until she sank in Krum Bay during Hurricane Klaus in November of 1984. The WIT Shoal II was re-floated in the spring of 1985 and sank again, where she remains today, in 90 feet of water on the southwest side of St. Thomas.
"You couldnt sink those suckers. They were almost impossible to sink. The only thing that could sink 'em was a hurricane and you found out about that," said Bill.
The LST 467 earned eight battle stars and the Navy Unit Commendation for World War II service and was credited with shooting down five enemy planes. Only 23 of the men who served on the ship are still alive. Anderson and Schutz were glad to be able to see their old ship in her final resting place. They said they made the trip in honor of all the crew.
"You know, the old LST crews never got much glory, so it was nice to finally have some for that old ship." Bill said.
Anderson added, "You know they were the best years of my life? The best years of my life."
Liddle and Blue Island Divers often dive the wreck. They can be reached at (340) 774-2001, or www.blueislanddivers.com..
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