Deadline approaches to bring artifact home
Dan Friend has a passion to preserve a World War II artifact with a DeLand connection that is thousands of miles away in Scandinavia.
Despite the challenges, Friend is certain it’s worth the effort to save the aging U.S. Army tugboat, ST 479, which took part in the Normandy invasion.
Built along Lake Beresford, the ST 479 was taken to Europe and put into the drive to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
Unlike many of the tugs built in DeLand, somehow this vessel survived the war. It’s a rare artifact of the worldwide conflict that took at least 40 million lives.
The tug sits moored in Stockholm, Sweden, while Friend works to raise money to bring the boat home.
“What a documentary this would make! I’ve got to raise 200 grand to get it back from Sweden,” Friend told The Beacon. “We’re hoping to get national attention.”
So far, his efforts to secure grants from companies interested in tax breaks for nonprofit causes or foundations established to save bits and pieces of American history have been unfruitful, but Friend isn’t giving up.
The ST 479 and its sister tugboats were used to tow large pieces of concrete from England to Normandy to create an artificial harbor known as Mulberry. The concrete chunks were quickly arranged to form a breakwater and haven for landing craft and supply ships, after the first waves of U.S., British and Canadian troops assaulted the beaches.
Once the concrete piers were in place, supply vessels could dock away from the beach without risking running aground, and could offload their cargoes of vehicles, weapons, ammunition and food.
Getting Allied troops and their supplies on shore quickly was essential to consolidate the beachhead and move inland into France before the Germans could mount a counterattack against the otherwise-vulnerable invaders.
Details are elusive, but Friend said the ST 479 was damaged in close combat.
“Legend has it that it was damaged by a German grenade. The uppermost part of the wheelhouse was steel. Only the wheelhouse,” he added.
Not surprisingly, the tugboats came under enemy fire. Some were lost in action, including another boat built in DeLand, the ST 344, which hit a mine off Cherbourg in July 1944, according to Friend’s in-depth research.
Crewmen inside the small tugs were too often unable to escape if their boats were damaged and took on water.
“These things were never designed for open water,” Friend said. “They were deathtraps.”
Friend said the small tugboats could be unstable to sail.
“The only way I would get in that thing would be with outriggers — 30-foot floats,” he said.
Still, the ST 479 is a historical treasure that Friend is determined to save and repatriate to DeLand. The DeLand Historic Trust, of which Friend is president, now owns the vessel, and both time and money to move it are of the essence. Friend is also curator of the DeLand Memorial Hospital & Veterans Museum.
Friend said the boat was at one time taken over by vagrants, who lived aboard it and took some items. The ST 479 has now been towed to a private marina for safekeeping, and Friend has one year to secure funds to move her. He also would like to be financially able to get the vessel out of Sweden and back home to DeLand, hopefully during the summer and before the onset of winter and harsher weather conditions.
“We can’t move it after September,” he said.
The stay in Stockholm is not free, either, Friend added.
“It’s costing two grand a month,” he said, referring to the rental fees in the private marina.
Meanwhile, the full, actual expense of putting the ST 479 aboard a cargo ship and sailing across the Atlantic to Jacksonville is not clear. That is a big obstacle, in a time of rising costs, with no visible means of paying them.
“It’s intangible,” Friend replied, when asked about the cost of a trans-Atlantic trip.
Assuming the Army tug can be brought to Jacksonville, Friend said he is ready for that next, easier and final phase of the long voyage.
“I’ve got a pirates crew of volunteers ready to go, once it gets to Jacksonville,” he noted.
Once back in West Volusia, Friend said, more people may come forward to help with restoring and refurbishing the ST 479 to ready it for public display and close-up looks by visitors wanting to go aboard.
A major part of that preparation is removing any asbestos and lead paint. Museums and facilities putting historical hardware on display are required, Friend explained, to comply with federal environmental standards on toxic and hazardous materials. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforces those health and safety regulations.
Some of that cost, Friend said, may be covered by funding under the Volusia ECHO program. ECHO is an acronym for “environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational” projects, and that phase of the effort to save the tugboat and set it up as a monument may qualify for such grants.
“I’ve gone to their meetings,” Friend said, referring to the ECHO Advisory Board. “As soon as we bring the boat into the county, at that point it is eligible.”
Anyone desiring more information about the effort to save the ST 479 or wishing to donate may contact Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.