GALESBURG — Now that the sale of the Ralph M. Noble American Legion Post 285 building is final, the future home of the transport vehicle out front is yet to be determined.
The amphibious vehicle, which local residents commonly — and mistakenly — call a tank, is at the post under a lease agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense. Cedar Creek Hall, the reception/events venue taking over the 571 E. North St. property, doesn’t want it nor could the business keep it.
According to Knox County property records, the sale was finalized March 9 for $210,000 between the Legion and Cedar Creek.
Post Commander Timothy Roll said the legion’s charter remains intact and they are working on where the transport vehicle may end up.
Janet Thompson Spoden is the daughter of James A. Thompson, who helped spearhead the effort to bring the vehicle to Galesburg in the mid-1990s. It was unveiled on Veterans Day 1998 after arriving in town about a month earlier by way of train.
In the Oct. 12, 1998, edition of The Register-Mail, the 1944 LVT Landing Vehicle was featured and Legionnaire Jim Thompson was highlighted for leading the effort to bring it here. A World War II Marine veteran himself, he served in the Pacific on a similar vehicle during his service. Thompson died in February 2005 at age 83.
In the weeks before the article ran, Thompson said kids had come up to ask questions about the new addition to Galesburg’s landscape.
He said then, “I told my wife that’s the very reason we wanted to get it.”
The vehicle came to Galesburg from the Amphibian Museum at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, in mid-September 1998. It also was transported to Galesburg by way of a BNSF flatbed. BNSF delivered the LVT free of charge.
The LVT was used to transport 20 to 25 men at a time, or fellow Marines in Thompson’s case.
The 1998 story said, “The LVTs were the creation of Donald Roebling, the grandson of the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. He designed and built his first amphibian tractor, called The Alligator, in 1935.”
The Alligator mostly came about as a way to help hurricane victims in Florida in the 1930s, but then Roebling sold his patent to the U.S. government.
LVTs could tear through coral reefs as it brought troops in or out from islands in the Pacific during WWII and also was used to cross rivers in Europe during fighting there.
Thompson told The Register-Mail in 1998 that as the new building was being constructed in 1996, discussion talked about a monument for the post. At that time, Thompson suggested the amphibious vehicle.
It was subsequently dedicated Nov. 11, 1998, during a Veterans Day ceremony. In the article highlighting the event in the next day’s paper, Thompson talked about the vehicle.
“We hope it will be treated as a symbol of the efforts of our veterans in preserving our freedom,” Thompson said at the time.
Spoden also provided to The Register-Mail a letter between her father and then-BNSF Chairman, president and Chief Executive Officer Robert Krebs.
Thompson included a novel with his letter of appreciation to Krebs. The book was “Utmost Savagery” by Col. Joseph Alexander and focused on the Battle of Tarawa and the use of Marine amphibious assault vehicle in November 1943.
Thompson wrote, speaking as an amphibian officer himself and citing the author of the novel using it during the Vietnam War, he said Alexander “portrays the special importance of the ‘amphibian tractors’ in their ability to negotiate the coral reefs surrounding the island and transport the infantry troops from the troop transport ships to the beaches.”
Thompson continued, “As a former member of the 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion, this project has a special meaning for me and for other members of our Legion Post who were transported ashore in these craft during other island assaults during World War II as well as the Korean War and Viet Nam. This ‘Am-Trac’ will be preserved and will honor all Veterans of all wars for all times!”
Spoden, now living in northeastern Georgia, said there is a deadline of May 1, or about a month from now, for the transport vehicle to find a new home in Galesburg, or somewhere else. She followed along with the American Legion news about its stability and eventual building sale.
“I became concerned because I, selfishly, didn’t want to see that part of military history leave,” she said. “Any military equipment that’s in front of an American Legion or in front of a VFW is all on loan from the D.O.D.”
Stephen German, post commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2257 at 1001 Michigan Ave., said they are not pursuing keeping the vehicle at their facility. He further noted the VFW already has a tank and a cannon. A Humvee is also sitting outside the Galesburg facility.
German, in his second term as post commander, further said there was interest from American Legion posts in Williamsfield and Galva about housing the amphibious vehicle.
“We got other things we need to do here,” German said. “We are talking about maybe bringing a helicopter … we’ve been working on that for a little while and working with Springfield.
“I think we’re about at the end of the trail with the red tape” to bring the helicopter here.
Both Spoden and Roll also said the Galesburg VFW isn’t going to house the vehicle.
“If May 1 comes and goes and it’s not out of there, I don’t know legally what they can do,” Spoden said.
“This cannot be sold and put in someone’s backyard. It’s on their property, but the value of the Amtrac at this point in time is more sentimental than anything.”
Robert Connelly: (309) 343-7181, ext. 266; email@example.com; @RConnelly_