Evansville, Ind., is a long way from the French coast, but the Hoosier State hosted a special tribute to D-Day Friday involving a local minister as a speaker.
Dr. David Sparks, pastor of Flat Rock Pentecostal Holiness Church, is also a Navy veteran and the chaplain for the United States Landing Ship Tank Association. It is holding a naval amphibious reunion in Evansville which was planned in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the D-Day campaign in 1944.
A number of World War II veterans who participated in the assault were expected to attend the reunion.
Appropriately, Friday’s program commemorating D-Day was held aboard the U.S. Landing Ship Tank (LST) 325 memorial vessel. Sparks said it was an appropriate backdrop for the reunion of the association.
“The 325 was actively involved in the D-Day Normandy Invasion,” Sparks said of its significance and how privileged he was to be able to speak from the deck of the historic ship.
“It was an old battle horse — a real war wagon,” Sparks said of LST-325’s D-Day exploits. “It went in again and again.”
Landing Ship Tank (LST) was the naval designation for a group of ships developed during World War II to support amphibious operations. The vessels were designed to transport large quantities of vehicles, cargo and landing troops to sites such as the Normandy beaches.
On D-Day, LST-325 anchored off Omaha Beach and unloaded soldiers and vehicles. Between June 1944 and April 1945, it made 43 trips between England and France and during that period helped rescue more than 700 men from a troop transport that was torpedoed.
LST-325 remained active until near the end of the century, and eventually sailed along the Ohio River to Evansville, its home port, where it remains docked as a museum and memorial ship to those who served on LSTs. Out of 1,050 ships built, the one with hull number 325 is among only two World War II LSTs preserved in the U.S.
“How could we do any better than to remember the day with a service on one of the very ships that was at D-Day 70 years ago?” added the local pastor, who was in the Navy from 1962-66 and a reservist for two years after that.
Sparks’ military career included being stationed with the gunnery divisions on two LST vessels during the Vietnam War in the Pacific.
He has been national chaplain of the United States Landing Ship Tank Association since 2006. Sparks writes a column, “The Chaplain’s Corner,” in the group’s quarterly magazine, The LST Scuttlebutt.
Locally, in addition to his ministerial duties, Sparks serves with the Honor Guard of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2019.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.