World War II PT-boat restoration reaches milestone

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by Bill Capo / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on November 11, 2010 at 11:37 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Each Saturday is like Christmas morning in the National World War II museum warehouse for the 70 volunteers who are restoring Motor Torpedo Boat PT-305.

You've never seen such high spirits during such hard work. It is like they each just got their favorite present. "It's really been a thrill," said Volunteer Lester Guarino. "It's something I never expected to do, but my buddy invited me over here one day, and we've been here ever since."

Now Lester Guarino and Ralph Del Rio are recreating the furnishings used by the crew out of solid mahogany.

"Actually we're building the crew's mess table," said Del Rio. "It was mounted in the fore part of the boat."

The retired Dean of UNO's Engineering School is refurbishing original PT-Boat electrical panels, which now look brand new. But at point they were so corroded they seemed beyond salvage.

"I was at a loss," said Dean Russell Trahan. "I didn't think I would ever be able to restore therm. They were so bad. My son spent hours and hours polishing the metal to remove all the rust."

But one of the things that has most gratified project organizers is the number of people who saw previous Eyewitness News reports about PT-305, and volunteered their time, or donated materials to restore the World War II PT-boat.

"The response from the community has been outstanding," said PT-305 Project Leader George Benedetto. "The talent of the men that have come here, the passion, the dedication has been terrific. More than pleased with that result. In addition to that, the materials, like this mahogany, that has been donated to the project."

"One thing good about being in the shipyard business is we fix things, and we make things, and we build things, and every time they run out of something, we figure out how to build them a new one," laughed Boysie Bollinger, of Bollinger Shipyards.

"This part here was decayed and had to be replaced," said Benedetto. "The new material with the workmanship, and the guys taking their time is blended together perfectly. Not only historically have we saved a large portion of the boat, but structurally it is sound. She'll go to sea because of the integrity of this joint, and the workmanship that this team has done."

PT-305 was built at Higgins Industries in New Orleans in 1943, and saw combat in the Mediterranean during World War II, at one point helping to sink an enemy version of a PT-boat. But after the war it was sold and ended up an oyster boat in Chesapeake Bay, and they cut 15 feet off the stern.

"The boat got shortened because they had to get them down to a length where you could drive them without a captain's license," pointed out National World War II Museum Executive Director Nick Meuller.

So the volunteers marked a special occasion as they sealed the new keel section to the original, and at the seam embedded special coins from 1943 and 2010.

"1943 Silver Moody F dollar. Boy haven't seen one of these in a long time. 2010 Gold Dollar."

When the two halves of the keel were joined, PT-305 went back to her original length of 78 feet.

"The German 88 hit me with a tree burst, blew my boots off me," remembered World War II Veteran Harold Buchler. "I was only hit in the leg. I was happy to be alive."

World War II veteran Harold Buchler may be 91 years old, but still volunteers on the PT-305 installation.

"I do mostly the woodworking, because I do a lot of the woodworking in my shop."

The PT-305 restoration is about 20 percent complete at this point. They have a lot of work left to do, and they still need help.

"We're needing marine paint, large quantities of it," said Project Manager Bruce Harris. "Also, we need about 550 yards of number 12 Canvas Duck. It is about a quarter acre, because this boat is wrapped in it, in between its two hulls, to make it waterproof."

"Right now what we still need, what we would really like to have is a corporate sponsor who could foot the whole bill," said World War II Museum Curator Tom Czekanski. "But if we don't find that we'd be happy to have donations of cash from anyone, no amount too small."

This restoration project is tough, exacting work, but they are having so much fun because they know PT-305 will become a a history lesson for future generations.

"I'm happy to be here, to be one of them that can try to preserve something for the future," said Harold Buchler. "We need that. The people here have to know what the men went through during World War II."

 

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