An important part of American history is coming to Bay St. Louis this weekend.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is scheduled to bring the fully-restored PT-305 to the Bay St. Louis Municipal Harbor for tours this Saturday, June 22, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Sunday, June 23, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
The tour was arranged through the museum's partnership with the Hancock County Tourism Bureau.
According to the National WWII Museum's website, "built in New Orleans by Higgins Industries, the patrol-torpedo (PT) boat PT-305 was a critical asset for the US Navy during World War II, serving in European waters from 1944 to the end of the war. Heavily armed, equipped with advanced technology, uniquely maneuverable, often ingeniously modified, and reliant on cooperation and teamwork, PT boats were a perfect naval expression of the American Spirit at war.
“With small crews within collaborative 12-ship squadrons, they were also the home to a colorful collection of Navy sailors and a dramatic backdrop for moving personal stories of war, including the trials of cramped quarters, the terrifying thrill of combat, and humorous tales of shore-leave escapades.
"Following her wartime service, PT-305 served as a New York tour boat, a fishing charter, and an oyster boat, undergoing modifications along the way: new, less-costly engines; several new paint jobs; and a dramatic reduction in length. When she was acquired by The National WWII Museum, PT-305 was in dry dock in Galveston, Texas, and in serious disrepair. In April 2007, accompanied by Museum curators, PT-305 found her way back to New Orleans, where The National WWII Museum became her home on land until she could be restored to her former glory."
Volunteers donated more than 120,000 hours to restore PT-305. In addition to the PT boats, Andrew Higgins and Higgins Industries also designed and built the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) boats -- or Higgins boats -- that were used extensively in amphibious landings in World War II, particularly during the D-Day Invasion, prompting President Dwight D. Eisenhower to say "Andrew Higgins ... is the man who won the war for us."
A proud legacy
When PT-305 comes to Bay St. Louis, it will be a homecoming, of sorts -- Andrew Higgins' grandson, Roland C. "Skipper" Higgins, Jr., has lived in Bay St. Louis for most of the past 20 years.
"I'm very proud of my grandfather's accomplishments," Skipper said last week. "Higgins Industries, in World War II, employed between 25,000 and 30,000 people and 92 percent of the U.S. Naval vessels in operation during the war were either built in New Orleans at Higgins Industries or at another shipyard using Higgins designs.
"There were three major industrialists in the world at that time -- Howard Hughes, Henry Kaiser and Andrew Higgins."
The part he's most proud of, though, Skipper said, is that his grandfather was the most forward-thinking industrialist in America at the time.
"With all of those thousands of people working for him, he broke the rules of the South in that era -- he had white, black, disabled, women workers, all working side-by-side, and all making the same amount of money. That was unheard of the in the U.S. -- especially in the South.
"Everyone who worked at Higgins Industries had 100 percent free medical care … And if someone was a 'Rosie the Riveter' at Higgins and got pregnant, she got maternity leave, and when she was ready to come back to work, they had a nursery for the employees' children.
"He was constantly working on 'What can I do to make these people want to work here and be happy about it?'"
Growing up in the Higgins household was "unique," Skipper said, since his grandfather was famous and influential -- "My grandparents were great friends with Juan and Eva Peron."
"I was nine years old when he died," Skipper said. "Mostly what I remember about the man is a great big deep voice and a tremendous presence."
The senior Higgins was a huge supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and helped raise millions of dollars for his re-election, Skipper said -- "The story was, they wanted him to be Roosevelt's running mate and serve as vice-president, but he didn't' want it. Truman didn't want it either, but they eventually wore him down. … Just think, if things had been different, I could have been the grandson of the president of the United States."
While Andrew Higgins didn't want to serve as V.P., his son -- Skipper's father Roland, Sr. -- did want to do his duty during WWII and serve in the military. He signed up against Andrew's wishes, but the industrialist had the last laugh -- he used his pull with the U.S. Navy to get his son stationed in New Guinea, overseeing the outfitting and deployment of Higgins boats, well away from the action.
Skipper also followed the family tradition and signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War -- but was also established well out of harm's way at Pearl Harbor.
"I did get to see them film the big battle sequence from 'Tora! Tora! Tora!'" he said.
Skipper said he's looking forward to the PT-305 visit this weekend, but he's been on the boat before -- in fact, he has been an advisor to the museum since the beginning, when it was going to be called "The D-Day Museum."
He said it's impossible to overestimate how important D-Day was to the Allied victory during World War II.
"There was no other plan when they planned the D-Day Invasion," he said. "If D-Day had not worked, Europe would be Germany today."
The Higgins boats, of course, were instrumental in that victory, and PT Boats were vital to the Allies throughout the war.
When the museum staff finally procured PT-305, he said, "They went all over the world finding remnants of other PT boats to replace the metal parts. … They didn't hire people, they had all volunteers who labored hundreds of thousands of hours."
In addition to its numeric designation, Higgins said, each PT boat was named by its captain on its maiden voyage.
When PT-305 was first launched, he said, there was a bit of an impact, "and someone said, 'That was a sudden jerk,' and that became its name -- the U.S.S. Sudden Jerk.
For more information about PT-305 or the tour at Bay Harbor, call 504-528-1944, ext. 40s, or email email@example.com.