Alongside the quay at the Port of Oswego, New York, an old warrior stands guard. On her stack, she proudly displays her “kill mark”: the silhouette of a fighter plane and swastika. Her twin .50-caliber guns still point skyward. She is U.S. Army large tug LT-5, the John F. Nash , originally christened the Major Elisha K. Henson and launched on 22 November 1942. During my three-hour tour of the 115-foot tug, I saw everything from the captain’s cabin to the spike-mounted “stinger” guns on the small gun deck abaft the pilothouse. It was during Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, that the sailors manning those guns earned the swastika painted on the oceangoing tug’s stack.
During World War II, the Army built and commissioned 200 large tugs. The Major Elisha K. Henson ’s keel was laid in 1943 at the Jakobson Shipyard in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. After sea trials, she accompanied a convoy across the Atlantic, where she became part of the 5,000-ship armada that would ferry men and equipment across the English Channel during and immediately after the Normandy landings. After the first waves of troops landed, the Henson was assigned to tow supply barges and caissons. These large, hollow concrete boxes were used to construct temporary “Mulberry” portable harbors along the Normandy coast.