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Caspian veteran traces history of WWII Navy ship

April 19, 2012
By ARTHUR B. AREGONI - For The Daily News , The Daily News

CASPIAN - For the past 10 years, I have used the Internet to search for the Word War II era U.S. Navy ship on which I served from 1944 to 1946.

The LST 1010 (landing ship, tank) cruised the Mediterranean Sea in Europe and North Africa and the South Pacific. Throughout the past several years I was able to locate a few shipmates or their children. I even managed to attend several reunions with them after 65 years.

During the late summer of 2011, I stumbled upon a website in South Korea which said the old LST 1010 was being preserved and displayed as a museum piece in what is called, "Gimpo Marine Park." The park is owned and managed by the city of Gimpo, South Korea. The precise location is on the Han River just off the Yellow Sea.

Confirming the existence of the ship museum was the next problem. As destiny would have it, the opportunity occurred at a funeral of an old friend, Carmen Abata, of Caspian, in November 2011.

Attending the funeral was his son, Caspian native Don Abata, who resides and is employed by the U.S. government in Seoul, South Korea. I was introduced to him by his sister, Carole Rivard.

Knowing that he resides in Seoul gave me the opportunity to question whether the LST 1010 still existed or whether the museum still existed. I asked if he would look into it.

After returning to his home in Seoul, he did some quick fact-checking and notified me by email that the museum still exists, and that it was only about two hours from his residence.

On Dec. 17, 2011, Don and his wife, Ann, made the two-hour trip via train and bus to Gimpo Marine Park. There and behold, anchored in concrete on the shore of the Han River, was my "beloved" USS LST 1010. Only now it was renamed LST 671 UNBONG by the Republic of Korea Navy.

As enthused as he was, Don and his wife paid the necessary fee to board and investigate the "67-year-old mystery ship" which once was home to a fellow hometown native and friend, Seaman Art Aregoni, from 1944 to 1946.

On board, they freely toured the ship on their own and savored the sites which the museum ship presented.

Being in the winter off season, they were practically alone on the ship. They maneuvered themselves through the various crew quarters, the galley, the ships bridge and the below tank deck, where many artifacts were set up displaying the various experiences of the ship during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Many pictures and videos were taken.

I am now enjoying the reminiscing of the various scenes after more than 67 years. However, many alterations and additions were made in those years, especially to transform from an ocean-going war machine to a museum piece.

At the current writing of this history, Don Abata is in the process of arranging a private tour with special permission from the city of Gimpo.

The park is assigning Abata a translator as a guide. The goal of the tour is to video live via I-phone utilizing the Skype utility, and stream video directly to my computer, so that I can visualize in real time live, and remotely tour and ask and answer questions of the translator as the tour progresses.

I am anxiously looking forward to this "tour."

LST 1010 was commissioned on April 25, 1944, at Bethlehem Steel Co. in Quincy, Mass. Since so many were constructed during the war years - 1,051 of them - they were named by numbers.

The ship was instrumental in the invasion of southern France in August 1944 and also supported the Italian campaign until it returned to the U.S. in late December, 1944.

After a complete overhaul in January and February 1945 and new paint job of camouflage green (Pacific colors), in contrast to the original battleship gray, (Atlantic colors), the ship was completely loaded with supplies, ammunition and personnel.

The ship departed the East Coast, through the Panama Canal and ported a few days in San Pedro, Calif. It then sailed to Seattle, Wash., loaded with troops and equipment ultimately destined for the Okinawa campaign.

After short stops in Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok Island, Guam Island and Saipan Island for additional troops, the ship reached its destination of Okinawa and the Island of IE Shima. This is the location where the famous news war reporter Ernie Pyle was killed and first buried. We had the brief opportunity to see his grave.

Okinawa was the final major battle and conclusion to World War II in the Pacific, after the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan.

The ship then sailed for the Philippine Islands and participated in the Liberation of the Philippines. At the war's end, the ship participated in the Occupation of Japan for several months. A brief occupation was made in Incheon, South Korea.

In 1947 the ship was turned over to the U.S. Army, and in 1950 it was returned to the U.S. Navy for the Korean conflict (1950-53).

In 1955, the ship was transferred to the Republic of Korea Navy, and renamed LST 671 UNBONG. As a South Korean ship, it was used for various training purposes and then participated in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1972.

The ship was retired from the Korean Navy in 2006, after 51 years of Korean military use.

Plans were eventually made by the City of Gimpo Marine Park to establish a ship museum, depicting the history of the ship from its original U.S. Navy commissioning in 1944.

As USS LST 1010 during World War II, the following Campaign Medals were earned:

The American Campaign; The European-African-Mediterranean Campaign with one bronze star; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign with one bronze star; the Philippine Liberation Medal; the World War II Victory Medal and the Asian Navy Occupation Medal.

Arthur Aregoni of Caspian is a member of the U.S. LST Association; the USS LST 325 Ship Memorial; and the Wisconsin LST Association. LST (landing ship, tank) was the military designation for naval vessels created during World War II to support amphibious operations by carrying vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto an unimproved shore.



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