~A Gallant Ship of the United States Navy~
by Andy McNeil
In early April of 1951, a task force of three thousand United States Marines boarded two Navy transports at San Diego, and embarked on a journey to Pusan, Korea. The Marines were replacements for the First Marine Division engaged in the second year of combat operations against the North Koreans and the Chinese Volunteers. I was a nervous nineteen year old Marine PFC in that group.
The ships, christened the USS Menard (201) and the USS Menifee (202), both Amphibious Personnel Assault vehicles, were like floating cities. They carried large contingencies of combat troops, were self sufficient and designed to travel across oceans to land the troops on enemy held beaches. They were targets of choice for enemy guns.
During the voyage the ship’s crew and Marines worked and played together, and lasting friendships developed among them.
In the original version of another story here on the USADEEPSOUTH site, I described the 1951 voyage, and in so doing, erroneously referred to the Menifee as the Minerva. I also stated that the ships were round bottomed and shallow, when they were actually “V” hulled with deep drafts. I offer my apologies to the ships and the gallant crews that served them. I must admit that at that time I was more concerned about my pending assignment than I was about trying to remember ships' names or hull designs. [NOTE: Corrections to the article have been made!]
The USS Menifee was named to honor Menifee County, Kentucky, where the ship’s bell, builder’s plaque, anchor and other mementoes are now on display.
The ship was commissioned in late 1944 and landed Marines on Japanese held Pacific Islands, earning one battle star in World War II and two battle stars during the Korean War. After serving its purpose and after becoming outdated, it was retired and decommissioned in 1958.
In July, I received invitations from Otha Cox and Ed Dortch to attend the Menifee reunion in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed explained that the crews of both ships considered the Marines transported by the ships as their own. I found this to be especially true as I was accepted by them as if I had known the crew all of my life.
From the time our unit boarded the ships, we were their cargo and they were our guardian angels with the specific assignment of getting us to our destination in fighting condition. Despite the violent storm and other problems encountered, they did their job efficiently and expertly.
At the 2006 reunion, I was reminded of the dedication and patriotism that existed during World War II and the Korean War era, an attitude that appears to be pitifully lacking today. The men in attendance had, at least once, risked their lives and, if necessary, would do so again.
Some attendees at the Menifee reunion served during the World War II era and the rest were from the Korean and Cold War eras. Some came from as far away as California and Colorado. This was a dedicated group; during the time they manned the vessel, this was obviously a crew and a ship to be reckoned with.
Some of the disabled crew members were accompanied, and physically assisted, by their adult children who knew, and understood, what the reunion and that period of history, meant to their fathers. In addition, several of the widows of deceased crew members found time to attend to represent their families.
The reunion received significant media coverage, and the Governor of the State of Kentucky acknowledged the event by commissioning each of us a “Kentucky Colonel,” the State’s highest honorary title of recognition. I received the additional honor of being commissioned an Honorary Crew Member of the USS Menifee, APA, 202.
On the final reunion night, we enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Ohio River. After the dance, everyone met on the deck, paused for prayer, and threw a flower into the river to honor American Veterans of all causes. We were joined by two other vessels that met us in the middle of the river in the heart of the metropolitan area and, in unison, the three vessels sounded their ships' horns with several long blasts. The ceremony was both a solemn and an emotional time.
The following morning, as we checked out of the hotel and said our goodbyes, I was reminded of the time in Pusan our unit was disembarking and walking down the gang plank. Several of the ship’s crew waved and shouted words of encouragement. We were too heavily laden to wave back, but a number of the Marines turned to those “well wishers,” and, with smiles on their faces, responded with words of gratitude that could only be fully comprehended and appreciated by the intended receiver. Those simple words were “Thanks for the ride.”
Andy McNeil served as Chancery Judge for the Twentieth Arkansas Judicial District and now acts as a Retired Judge on Assignment. He is a Life Member of the Arkansas Judicial Council.
Read more of Andy's stories at USADS:
Arkansas Civil Air Patrol
Halls of Justice (humor)
Korean War History - Andy's Story
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