WWII ship with ties to Pittsburgh wows visitors

Joe Guzy | The Duquesne Duke The USS Syros attracts visitors near Heinz Field. The cargo ship is similar to those built in Pittsburgh during World War II.

Joe Guzy | The Duquesne Duke
The USS Syros attracts visitors near Heinz Field. The cargo ship is similar to those built in Pittsburgh during World War II.

By Carolyn Conte | The Duquesne Duke

The USS Syros, a massive gray World War II cargo ship, sailed away from Pittsburgh Wednesday after offering thousands of history buffs, curious visitors and veterans an opportunity to learn more about the war and its impact on the Pittsburgh steel industry.

The Landing Ship Tank, or LST 325, is one of the last of its kind from the World War II era, according to LST crew member Bob Hargrove. The ship took part in the Normandy invasion, which included D-Day, a crucial turning point in the war.

The LST 325 has ties to Pittsburgh, according to Andrew Simpson, a Duquesne history professor.

“The shipyards on Neville Island, Dravo Corp., built LSTs and the steel mills like the Homestead Works produced much of the steel that went to armor tanks and battleships,” Simpson said.

Hargrove said many Pittsburgh residents who visited the ship had ancestral links to it.

“People whose mothers melded these ships, descendents of crews … it carried Army, Navy, and Marine interests in three wars,” Hargrove said.

The ship could carry 20 Sherman tanks, which was cutting edge innovation at the time, and was designed to deposit cargo for invasions, according to Hargrove. The USS Syros was especially valuable because of its flat bottom, shallow draft and ability to easily rest on a beach for unloading, he said.

Launched from Philadelphia on Oct. 27, 1942, the USS Syros was named for an island in Greece. It operated in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, according to the Historical Naval Ships Association website.

Bob Jornlin is the former captain of the ship and currently travels with it around the country. He explained that cargo ships like the Syros were crucial to providing Allied troops with the supplies they needed to fight.

“It went to a beach that was never secured, took wounded back to England, carried supplies, kept allies supplied with gasoline,” Jornlin said. “You can put the army on a beach, but if they have no food or weapons what good are they?”

The ship now is owned by nonprofit group USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc. and it travels around the United States offering visits to the public. Tickets cost $5 for children and $10 for adults, and all proceeds go toward maintaining the ship.

Diana Dill, 30, of Pittsburgh, visited the ship Saturday with her two toddlers.

“You have to learn from history,” Dill said. “Kids have to see what their grandparents went through.”

Army veteran Frank Bayer, 52, of Clairton, visited the ship to see the living conditions of the sailors.

“It’s important to see what the military went through, to understand them,” Bayer said.

According to Simpson, interactive pieces of history like the LST 325 can teach students lessons that go beyond the classroom, a textbook or a museum.

“Seeing LST 325 is a great chance for Duquesne students to connect with a piece of history outside of a traditional museum setting, and to get a better understanding of what life was like for soldiers during World War II,” Simpson said.

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