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The USS Calhoun County, originally USS LST-519, was a tank landing ship that served the U.S. Navy in the European Theater during World War II and was later used to dump radioactive material into the Atlantic Ocean. It was renamed the USS Calhoun County on July 1, 1955, in honor of counties of that name in eleven states, including Arkansas.
LST-519 was one of a class of vessels created to carry tanks, wheeled and tracked vehicles, artillery, construction equipment, and supplies during military operations along coastal areas. Called “Large Slow Targets” by their crews, they were designed as shallow-draft vessels; when loaded with a 500-ton cargo, LST-519 drew just under four feet at the bow and just under ten feet at the stern. They carried pontoons amidships that could be used to create causeways when they had to debark their cargos from deeper water, but they were capable of dropping their forward ramps directly onto a beach.
The keel of LST-519 was laid down at Seneca, Illinois, by the Chicago Bridge and Ironworks Company on September 17, 1943. It was launched on January 25, 1944, after being christened by Bonnie Fay Catherwood and was commissioned at Algiers, Louisiana, on February 17, 1944, under the command of Lieutenant Frank L. Brimmer.
The vessel weighed 1,625 tons, was 328 feet long and fifty feet wide, and could achieve speeds of up to 11.6 knots. It was armed with two twin 40-mm gun mounts, four single 40-mm gun mounts, and twelve single 20-mm gun mounts, which were used primarily to protect against air attack. LST-519 could carry a crew of thirteen officers and 104 enlisted men in addition to up to sixteen officers and 147 enlisted men as passengers.
Assigned to the European Theater, LST-519 participated in Convoy UGS-36 in April 1944, and in the Normandy invasion in June of that year. It earned two battle stars during World War II.
In addition to Lieutenant Brimmer, LST-519 was commanded by Lt. Charles Crue from December 1, 1947, to 1949, Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Roy Hern in 1956, Lt. Roland Eugene Burnham in 1958, and Lt. George Self in 1961 and 1962.
Following the war, LST-519 was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, where it was tasked with dumping condemned ammunition and atomic waste into deep water, ultimately casting tons of unprotected radioactive material into the ocean. It was designated the USS Calhoun County on July 1, 1955. Seriously contaminated by radioactivity, it was decommissioned on November 8, 1962, and struck from the navy list on the same day. The vessel was sunk as a target off the Virginia Capes in June 1963.
For additional information:
Levesque, William R. “USS Calhoun County Sailors Dumped Thousands of Tons of Radioactive Waste into Ocean.” Tampa Bay Times, December 20, 2013. Online at http://www.tampabay.com/news/military/veterans/the-atomic-sailors/2157927 (accessed December 4, 2018).
“LST-519.” Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History and Heritage Command. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/l/lst-519.html (accessed December 4, 2018).
Rottman, Gordon L. Landing Ship, Tank (LST) 1942–2002. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Co., 2005.
“USS Calhoun County (LST-519).” NavSource Online. http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/16/160519.htm (accessed December 4, 2018).
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 12/4/2018
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