Newsletter Masthead - 34KB

[July 1999]


[Final Edition]

In the last newsletter, Jimmy posted a list of final construction details to be completed. The month of August was spent completing those tasks in anticipation of the upcoming sea trials George Benedetto’s friend, Tim DiVincenti painted the numbering scheme (PA 33-21) on the side of the vessel. He skillfully committed his brush to surface and the paint crew took a welcomed break.

Jimmy was able to locate a “registry” plaque that had originally been attached to a Higgins boat. The plaque lists the type of vessel, registry number, and specifications and proudly states it was built by Higgins. An Internet search, at the suggestion of his father, turned up a plaque to which the owner, Richard Marksbury, Dean of University College at Tulane, decided to donate the plaque to the UNO Foundation. His generous act helped provide a final stamp of authenticity to the boat. We greatly appreciate this generous gift and welcome the Marksbury Family to our Higgins boat building family.

An additional plaque was also installed listing the volunteers who committed themselves to build the boat. This “builders plaque” will remain in the boat forever.

Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff deputies and Earl Fredricks went to Baton Rouge to pick up the completed cradle from Hebert Steel. It was then transported to New Orleans. and off loaded at the Orleans Levee Board Facility. The following Saturday we reported to work and undertook the following tasks: The jacking points were attached to the cradle. The cradle was then jacked up high enough to allow us to put the casters on it. Next it was rolled in it’s completed position, wheeled into the boat workshop, and set on the left (port side) of the boat. B & G Crane Service then came out and lifted the boat off of the temporary cradle. We then removed the temporary cradle with Bruce Harris’ truck and then rolled the steel cradle underneath PA 33-21. Once the boat was gently “dropped” onto the new cradle, we made sure that the boat fit it properly; which it did!

Rolling the boat on the new steel cradle through the gate of the work shop we positioned it on the back side of the warehouse. The boat was then jacked up to a height of about forty inches using the oak blocks provided to us by Gueydan Lumber. Then, with the boat jacked up at four corners and on wooden blocks, a low boy trailer, which was provided by the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Department, was backed under the cradle and the boat was lowered onto the trailer and chained down. Plenty of chains were used so it wouldn’t shift. Everything was then locked down. We were now prepared to move the boat on the following day, September the 5th.

Everyone met on Sunday morning at the Orleans Levee Board Warehouse. There, over two years earlier we had gathered to “re-open the factory” as LT Duckworth has said and turn out one more Higgins LCVP. With that now accomplished, a swell of pride overtook many who looked upon the boat. With the boat now outside the warehouse, we lined up our cars and prepared to exit the warehouse yard. The big day had arrived!

To the cheers of everyone there, the procession of at least fifty cars was escorted out of the yard by police officers on Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. With their lights flashing, the mile long procession slowly made its way to France Road passing the former Higgins Plant on the Industrial Canal.. We continued onto Poland Avenue and headed to the Coast Guard Base on Urquhart St. There we were met by the press and Coast Guard personnel. WDSU-TV interviewed Don Summers and Spencer McIlvaine for the five o’clock news. Warrant Officer Ken Mitchell used the travel lift to off load the boat. Additional Coast Guard personnel assisted. It was then placed on the ground and positioned for future launchings.

Several of the volunteers boarded the vessel when her ramp was placed in the downward position. and onto the oak blocks that were brought over from the warehouse. Marine Corps veteran B.J. Roberts was one of them. He had been in the procession that brought the boat there and upon arrival told Jim Weller he wanted to get in. B.J., with oxygen in hand and some assistance from Jim Weller and Jimmy Duckworth Sr., made it in. He had made six assaults in the Pacific and was determined to board a Higgins LCVP again. After a few moments, they helped him down. Harold Buchler Jr. carried his oxygen. Shortly thereafter, he left. The next day B.J. passed away. We only wish his effort to climb aboard could’ve been to go on the first sea trial with the rest of us. We were all saddened by his loss. But I think we can all say that he was glad to have been able to go aboard an LCVP one more time. B.J. Roberts will be missed.

September the 12th. The following Saturday we put her in the water and checked for any problems. Our inspection found two to three minor hull leaks through some screw holes where we had forgotten to put some screws in. There was a problem in the charging system. The generator wasn’t working properly and would need to be seen to by Stewart and Stevenson. Still, these were minor problems though it meant postponing the sea trials for another week Everything else worked great. The engine ran flawlessly. The sea suction was drawing water and there was lots of overboard discharge so the cooling system worked as expected. Jimmy said he’s never seen such few problems in a newly constructed vessel!

September the 18th. With last week’s repairs made, the sea trials could begin. This week Janine Bowman operated the travel lift and put the vessel in the water. A last minute inspection had Ed, jokingly said Bruce, looking for fault with George’s plumbing. Happily none was found. After lunch, the crew of Bruce Harris, George Benedetto, Joey Madere, Earl Fredricks, Ray Asprion and Jimmy Dubuisson, under Capt. Don Summers, took her out for the inaugural voyage. Next to the pure pleasure of taking her out for the first time, they had an additional purpose of learning to operate the boat and become a CREW ! After that, the rest of us got underway. Just before the turn around point up the canal, our coxswain turned the wheel over to David Bowman. Then it was wife Janine Bowman’s turn. Husband and wife were all smiles taking their respective turns at the helm. Janine said it was like “driving a big box and better than a carnival ride”.

All the veterans who went out on the boat reported that it was a great experience. Don Summers had been waiting a long time to take a Higgins boat out again. He admitted to experiencing deja vu. Spencer “Mac” McIlvaine and Fernand Voss were glad they didn’t have to ride in one during the war. And Mac had the vantage point of riding in the gun tub wishing he had a machine gun (Mac was a Gunner’s Mate during the war).

Bruce Harris reported that the post days inspection left some areas to be worked on. First, there needs to be a realignment of the engine and the shaft. Now that the boat is in the water, a small adjustment had to be made. Secondly, the generator needed to be rechecked. Both tasks involve a full days work.. The good news to report is that the boat ran well and made 12 knots. At 2:33 PM the last run was made in order to check our work.

On Saturday October 1, Stewart and Stevenson completed the necessary repairs to the generator during the morning hours.. After lunch the crew undertook further sea trials up and down the Industrial Canal. Nearly everyone involved with this project has had a chance to ride in the boat and even drive it. Sometime during those sea trials we all had time to think about what the veterans went through storming those many beaches. Some like Roy Redler, who have gone ashore at Iwo Jima, know first hand.

Upon returning, we were met by State Representative Jacquelyn Clarkson who presented three certificates of appreciation to the crew. One was on behalf of Governor Foster and the other on behalf of the State Legislature, and yet another from the Lieutenant Governor! We all appreciated the kind words she spoke and the time she took out of her busy schedule to pay us a visit. Mrs Clarkson was INSTRUMENTAL in getting State funding for the addition to the Museum which will house the Higgins Boat!

The next day, everyone met for a boat trip across Lake Pontchartrain. After clearing the Seabrook Bridge we gunned it across the open water to West End where we picked up James Woodward and his daughter at the Coast Guard Station. We docked at Mayer’s Yacht boat slip and from there walked over to Sid-Mar’s Restaurant.. Karen & Erston Reisch met us there and we all had lunch.

Our journey across the lake and through the West End Marina drew the attention of the nearby boaters who didn’t know what to make of our vessel. One gentleman shouted to us that he hadn’t seen an LCVP since he rode one in the invasion of Sicily back in 1943. We were proud to know that NO one else had a boat like ours! We had a glorious time that day.

As we near completion of this project, I know that everyone would like to thank someone who has made this all possible. He has been our point man with the outside world; the one who has made all arrangements for materials, equipment, support services, as well as bringing everyone together. He’s our “Lieutenant Can Do” in the words of Jim Weller. It wouldn’t have happened without him. Thanks Jimmy Duckworth!

The Christening is less than a month away and there’s still work to be done. We are really looking forward to giving our great boat a wonderful christening!

Our thanks go to Cub Scout troop 230 of Saint Catherine of Siena for coming to the work site and cleaning the boat and workshop area. Thanks Scouts, and Cub Master Conrad Buchler!

My personal thanks go to James Woodward and Jim Weller for bringing me up to speed regarding the who, what, and where involved in this project. Thank you friends.

Kirt Garcia

PS: Thanks very much Kirt, for volunteering to undertake the writing of this newsletter. This humble publication has become a chronicle of the entire project, complete with the “highs” and the “lows”.

The next newsletter will be published just after the christening and commissioning of our boat, and it will be the last one.

Jimmy Duckworth

[July 1999]

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