OSWEGO, NY – Nearly 75 people crowded into the H. Lee White Marine Museum on Sunday for a birthday party for a tugboat.
Following a brief history of the LT-5, Oswego’s piece of World War II history, the ceremony recognized the sacrifices of almost two dozen members of The Greatest Generation.
County, state and federal officials presented the area World War II veterans in attendance with certificates of recognition. The certificates will be delivered to those who were unable to attend.
Among those honored was museum volunteer Joe Murabito of Oswego.
Murabito, 93, is a dedicated museum volunteer who brings the story of the LT-5 to life. He served with the US Army Infantry from 1942-45.
“People should get to know what the LT-5 did. If you lose that, you lose history. It’s like a man coming back from the war, you don’t ignore him. He (LT-5) is the only one left,” said Murabito.
When the museum took ownership of the tug, former director Mrs. Rosemary Nesbitt turned to Lance Knapp and asked him to take on the responsibility of getting the vessel ship shape again.
“And, if any of you knew Rosemary Nesbitt, it was hard (i.e. impossible) to say no to her,” explained Mercedes Niess, the museum’s current executive director. “So 20 years of restoration and preservation and an awful lot of love has gone into this vessel. It was a big acquisition. And Bill White, our benefactor, was part of that acquisition effort.”
“We will do our best to care for her for generations to come,” Niess vowed. “Because, she is going to be telling your story for your grandchildren and other people’s children for many, many more years.”
Captain Knapp was captain of the LT-5 for 21 years; he retired at the end of last year.
“In the early days of World War II, President Roosevelt knew he had to attack France, or Europe, in some way. He knew he needed a fleet of vessels to bring supplies over there to support that effort,” he told the crowd.
It was through that vision that more than a dozen identical tugs were created – some in Tampa, Fla., and others in Oyster Bay, NY.
They all had a range of at least 3,000 miles and living quarters for at least 12. The 115-foot tug is capable of towing 600 tons.
“You needed at least a 12-man crew. Technology at that point in time demanded that you had to have at least eight people on just to operate it,” Knapp said. “It takes two or three guys in the engine room, two in the pilot house.”
The tugs were “designed to be expendable,” he pointed out.
“They expected a lot of these not to come back. If they lasted two or three years, that’s good enough,” he said.
The LT-5 was built in 1943 as The Nash. It isn’t a naval vessel; it is an army support vessel.
In the early 1940s, the president offered safe harbor in New York Harbor to the many Norwegian fishing captains whose ships were being ravaged by German U-boats in the North Atlantic. Many of those fishermen wound up as captains aboard the US tugboats, Knapp pointed out.
The LT-5 is one of the last remaining operational Army Transport vessels from World War II.
Each tug towed two barges with railroad tracks and four railroad tank cars – full of fuel for the war effort.
During the D-Day Invasion in June 1944, the tug made countless trips to ferry supplies to the landing beaches of Normandy. Her crew shot down a German fighter plane June 9, 1944.
When war in Europe ended, the LT-5 saw (supply) action in the Philippines until the Japanese surrendered.
The museum acquired the tug in 1992 and “it took us a year to make the boat run,” Knapp said. “And, it took us another year to learn how to run it – because remember this is 1942 technology.”
“We fired the main engine on June 6, 1993. It was the first time that engine had rolled over since 1984. When the army had it, they never covered the stack. It rained and it snowed and ducks built nests in there and things got down in there and died,” he said. “When we first fired it up, it blew a plume of crap out of that stack that covered everything on the pier!”
The restoration has been on-going. They average about 1,000 manhours a year on the tug. And, usually ran about 300 miles a year out on the lake.
When they first got the tug, diesel fuel was around 54 cents a gallon; today it is more than $4 a gallon, Knapp said, adding that the vessel burns about a gallon per minute, “and that is just cruising.”
Assemblyman Will Barclay was on hand to honor the assembled veterans. Also taking part in the ceremony were Mave Gillen, representing Congressman Dan Maffei, and Holly Carpenter, representing Senator Patty Ritchie.
“I’m honored to be here today and help recognize the great veterans that we have here in Oswego County,” Barclay said. “I want to say thank you for all of your sacrifices. We live in a great country because of people like all of you.”
In a letter, Maffei called the LT-5 “a treasure in our own backyard.”
He also cited all the sacrifices made by the veterans to keep this nation free.
Carpenter shared Ritchie’s high praise for the veterans.
Niess read a proclamation from Kevin Gardner, chair of the Oswego County Legislature, recognizing the 70th anniversary of the LT-5 and honoring the World War II veterans.
Gardner urged all residents “to remember such heroes for their quiet valor, their deep loyalty and their selfless sacrifices that continue to protect our freedom, families and our grateful nation.”
Following the ceremony, everyone was treated to light refreshments, including an anniversary cake created by Bob Bateman of Cakes Galore for the event.
The H. Lee White Marine Museum is located at the foot of the West First Street pier in Oswego Historic Maritime District.
For more information, contact Niess at 315-342-0480, email
[email protected] or visit www.hleewhitemarinemuseum.com