Historic WWII Ship’s Wisconsin Stop Holds Special Meaning for La Crosse Family

Michelle Powell's children, along with her nieces, were able to see the Navy vessel their great-grandfather helped bring back from Greece. Photo courtesy Michelle Powell

By Salina Heller

August 30, 2023

Lt. Donald Molzahn Sr., was part of a group of veterans that brought the LST 325 back from Greece more than twenty years ago. This week his family watched the WWII Navy transport vessel dock in his hometown.

Michelle Powell had tears in her eyes as she stood on the banks of the Mississippi River and saw the USS LST 325 pull into view.

It was very emotional seeing it dock today,” Powell explained. “It felt like my grandpa was right there with me, watching.”

The Ship’s Story

Historic WWII Ship’s Wisconsin Stop Holds Special Meaning for La Crosse Family

With a flood of emotions, this was the view Michelle Powell had as the LST 325 came into La Crosse on the Mississippi River from Indiana. Photo Courtesy Michelle Powell

The sea vehicle was designed to land battle-ready tanks, troops, and supplies on enemy shores by raising its front end before hitting ground and lowering its ramp.

From crossing the English Channel 44 times carrying troops and tanks to Omaha Beach and those injured back to England during D-Day in WWII, to serving the Greek Navy for 36 years, the LST played an integral role in history.

The ship survived the war and continued with arctic operations with the Military Sea Transportation Service, before it was given to the Greek Navy, which used it until the early 90s.

RELATED: The Return of LST 325

Her Grandfather’s Story

Historic WWII Ship’s Wisconsin Stop Holds Special Meaning for La Crosse Family

Courtesy Michelle Powell

Now a La Crosse preschool teacher, Powell still thinks about her grandfather all the time.

“I have the journal my grandpa kept the whole time he started the process to get the LST back home in 1995,” Powell said. “He was so defeated when there was setback after setback.

In 2000, a small group of American veterans–including Powell’s grandpa–traveled to Greece and painstakingly made necessary repairs to the ship. Then, they made the month-long journey riding the ship back to America, bringing the vessel, its stories, and its history back home.

“He was getting older and even had open heart surgery before he left in 2000, so it was incredible he got to go,” Powell remembered.

“After he returned, he told stories over and over about his journey. In his final days on this earth, I spent reading to him from, you guessed it, his journal.”

Today

Historic WWII Ship’s Wisconsin Stop Holds Special Meaning for La Crosse Family

Michelle Powell’s mother, Patti Fellenz, and Fellenz’s sister, Shelley Kallenbach, hold a sign that was hung up on the LST 325 as their father and other crew members were working on the ship in Greece. Photo Courtesy Michelle Powell


The ship now serves as a museum and makes one annual cruise a year to a different part of the country. This year, its only Wisconsin stop is La Crosse, where Powell’s grandfather grew up.


“To watch that ship come under the blue bridge in his home town–I just can’t tell you how much it would have meant to him,” Powell said. “He would be so proud and filled with so much joy.”

She said it’s the epitome of recognition for her grandfather.

“It’s incredible that our whole family will be here to tour it together, traveling from Texas, Tennessee, and Hawaii, to get home,” Powell said. “We haven’t been together in a long time, and I think that is his doing from afar.”

The LST 325 will be docked at Riverside Park and will host public tours from Aug. 31-Sept. 4.

Learn More or Plan Your Visit Here

Historic WWII Ship’s Wisconsin Stop Holds Special Meaning for La Crosse Family

Author

  • Salina Heller

    A former 15-year veteran of reporting local news for western Wisconsin TV and radio stations, Salina Heller also volunteers in community theater, helps organize the Chippewa Valley Air Show, and is kept busy by her daughter’s elementary school PTA meetings. She is a UW-Eau Claire alum.

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