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USS Washtenaw County

 

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The Tank Landing Ship LST-1166 was named USS Washtenaw County and was commissioned in the United States Navy from 1953 to 1973. The members of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 310, located in Washtenaw County, honor this Navy vessel for its name and also for its outstanding participation in the Vietnam War.

We, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 310, are proud of USS Washtenaw County for many reasons. One, of course, is its name. This is the only ship that was given the name "Washtenaw County." The second reason has to do with USS Washtenaw County's brave involvement in the Vietnam War.

LST-1166's involvement with Vietnam began in the early 1960s, when it provided support for the 7th Fleet Amphibious Force. Involvement with Vietnam intensified after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, providing logistics and troop transport to the Vietnam War. USS Washtenaw County became the most highly decorated ship of the Vietnam War. This vessel was part of the "Brown Water" Navy, providing support for the "Mobile Riverine Forces."  

vietnamservice<< Wikipedia info about USS Washtenaw County.

Naming of USS Washtenaw County

This vessel's initial name was simply “USS LST 1166.” From 1955, the Navy began assigning names to LST's, using the names of American counties and parishes (Louisiana). No other county in America has the name "Washtenaw." In over 200 years of United States Navy history, LST 1166 is the only ship that bears the name USS Washtenaw County.

Deckhouse V

Deckhouse_VAn example of USS Washtenaw County's participation in the Vietnam War was "Operation Deckhouse V," conducted in January 1967 in the Mekong Delta. That was an operation by Seventh Fleet's Special Landing Force (SLF), combining US Marine and Vietnamese Marine amphibious operation.The photograph shows U.S. and South Vietnamese combat troops moving ashore during "Operation Deckhouse V," conducted in the Mekong Delta. USS Washtenaw County is in the background. This massive operation involving international forces shows the scope of this vessel's participation in the Vietnam War and portrays the type military actions for which the vessel received numerous awards.

vietnamservice<<Thirteen minute Project Harbor Video


Another chapter in the brave participation of USS Washtenaw County in the Vietnam War took place during the buildup, when the ship carried troops and supplies into Vietnam. From 1968, Washtenaw County started providing support for the Mobile Riverine Force in the Mekong Delta, serving as a mobile home for Army and Marine troops. Their joint mission was to control the Mekong Delta waterways. The ship provided berthing space for military personnel, ammunition supply, rations, and support for gunboats and river monitors in their mission to keep the delta waters under control. The role of USS Washtenaw County during that phase of the Vietnam War was invaluable. The rapid deployment, joint operation between Navy, Marine, and Army personnel operating in the Mekong Delta could not have taken place without the steady and reliable support provided by LST ships like USS Washtenaw County.

The Mission of USS Washtenaw County

1166Without exaggeration, we can say that the missions carried by USS Washtenaw County during this phase of the Vietnam War had a lot to do with reversing the devastating effects of the Tet Offensive in late January 1968. By supporting the joint Army-Navy operation to keep the waterways of the Mekong Delta under control, Washtenaw County again showed its brave participation in the war, warranting the many commendations it received. By providing support for amphibious landings, cargo and personnel transport, and combat operations along the Mekong River, Washtenaw County proved again and again its bravery in action, up to her last wartime assignment in mid-1972.

Operation Endsweep

Operation_End_SweepOne brave action performed by USS Washtenaw County was carried out in June 1973. That was at the end of the US presence in Vietnam. The US military had cleared Haiphong Harbor from mines, but just to be sure, they assigned to USS Washtenaw County the task of verifying that no mines were left in the harbor. A crew of seven volunteers served on the mission, navigating a predetermined pattern across the harbor for several weeks. Running the channel back and forth to Haiphong, Washtenaw County verified all the mines had been cleared. The harbor was declared open for shipping in June 1973. The volunteer skeleton crew of the ship were among the last American military to depart Vietnam.


Facts about USS Washtenaw County

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1. Built by Christy Shipbuilding Company of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

2. Commissioned on October 29, 1953 at New Orleans Naval Station, with Lieutenant Commander Mack D. Ellis in command.

3. Named USS Washtenaw County on 1 July 1955.

4. Length: 384 feet--longer than a football field.

5. Crew: approximately 175 officers and enlisted men.

6. Type of vessel: this is a flat-bottom, shallow draft ship. It used a salt-water ballast system to add weight and stability when sailing the ocean. Approaching the shore, her ballast tanks were pumped out to float the ship higher for beaching. Being flat-bottomed, this vessel was able to run up onto the beach to debark troops, tanks, and cargo. 

7. Referred to as “Gator Navy” and “Gator Freighter”: LST vessels were long amphibious ships that slid onto the beach like an alligator. The LST bow doors opened like the jaws of an alligator. LST sailors called themselves“Gators.”

8. Speed: 14 knots, which is about 16 MPH.

9. Travel time: It took USS Washtenaw County about 3 weeks to cross the Pacific Ocean from California to Japan.

10. Other names for LST: “Large Slow Target”; “Last Ship There"; "Long Slow Trip.”

 

The USS Washtenaw County Memorial -- Ann Arbor, Michigan

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Located at the Corner of Ann Street and Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor, the Washtenaw County Clerk Building houses a memorial honoring USS Washtenaw County, as the most highly decorated ship of the Vietnam War. Members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 310 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, took a leading and decisive role in building this memorial. After months of planning, finding the proper location, identifying artists for the proper design, fundraising for the project, and implementing the complex plans, the leaders of this project brought about the successful completion of this memorial. This is a fitting tribute to a ship that honorably served our country with distinction and pride. This is the place where Washtenaw County veterans and friends can preserve the proud history of this heroic vessel, making sure that her history is not lost to posterity.

 

Project Harbor

Spearheading the work was the "Project Harbor" Committee, a group of Vietnam Veterans, Chapter 310, Washtenaw County. That group included Gary Lillie, Donald Miller, Thomas Osmond, George Perrault, Thomas Rang, and Elmer White. Such projects involve much more than meets the eye. Of no small significance was the huge fundraising effort carried out in order to bring this project to successful completion.

VVA310

VVA310 has much to be proud of in these accomplishments. As VVA310 Media Director Vance McCrumb states, "We have a wonderful Memorial in honor of those that made the Supreme Sacrifice from Washtenaw County.  Being built is a Vietnam diaorma at the Yankee Air Museum and now a display to honor the USS Washtenaw County and her crew in the county seat!  What is the common factor in all of these?  VVA 310!  We leave our footprints all over the local area for all sorts of worthy projects.  And, will continue to do so."

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Tom Osmond, member of the "Project Harbor" Committee, says the following: "These are the reasons I chose to become a member of Chapter 310! You guys do so much for veterans and their causes, which reflects great character on yourselves as well as the Chapter. It's a honor to be a member of such a fantastic organization." Tom Osmond continues, "I was honored to have been a part of the committee that helped develop the new display of ship's artifacts. To see the history of my favorite ship on display in such a public setting warms my heart. It's the story of the most highly decorated ship of the Vietnam War, and one that deserved to be told."

Bob Kwiecinski, President, VVA310 Chapter, states, "The USS Washtenaw County Memorial Display is now in her homeport: Ann Arbor, where she always should be. God Bless all those who served on her! WELCOME HOME!"

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In George Perault's Words

Elmer White first introduced me to the artifacts of the USS Washtenaw County in September 2009. They were housed in a warehouse in Washtenaw County . I became immediately interested. Once we started on this project, I said, "Wait a minute! Lets see what the ship itself has to say about this." My thought was there had to be some kind of organization connected with that ship. Just about all ships in the Navy have some sort of ship's association, or veterans' organization, or reunion committee. It so happened that Tom Osmond, a former crewmember of the ship, lived in the suburbs of Detroit (Warren), which is close to Ann Arbor. I contacted Tom Osmond and told Elmer White that we had a crewmember, and after all it was their ship. That way, "Project Harbor" took off. Looking back on it, I can see that each member of the Committee was crucial to its success. There were times when I thought the task was going to be impossible, but we kept at it, until we broke through and finally accomplished our goal.

 

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A Long, Arduous Process

During the some 2,000 emails, numerous phone conversations, and a great many meetings, I personally became perhaps too attached to what I was doing. In Vietnam I had been aboard an LST vessel similar to USS Washtenaw County. She belonged to the same task force, 117, and was also known as the "Brown Water Navy." Based on my experience, I began drafting a brochure, with my reflections from back when I was aboard the USS Tioga County LST-1158. It took me several hours to compile and compose enough words to describe the experiences of living on an LST. Together with Tom Osmond and Elmer White, we finalized the brochure and started our work. We visited almost every single veterans organization in the immediate area of Ann Arbor.

We solicited support for "Project Harbor," pointing out that this ship had hauled Army, Marines, and Air Force equipment, ammunition, rations, as well as their sick, their wounded, and those who had paid the supreme sacrifice. In fact, at the Display dedication ceremony we learned from a former Commanding Officer that at one point USS Washtenaw County housed 53 Prisoners of War. I encourage people to come and visit the memorial, in order to learn a lot more about this ship.

Going Forward

It is hoped that the Display of USS Washtenaw County will stimulate interet in the work carried out by the US Navy in Vietnam, expecially the "Brown Water" Navy. Moreover, we hope this will encourage renewed interest in the Vietnam War, with better understanding of the service rendered by our US military personnel of all branches of service, during the Vietnam War.