[ PT761 ]

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Scavaged from Jacksonville.com

Last modified at 5:14 p.m. on Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Group to restore, display PT boat

Steel cradle built for its journey

By Christopher F. Aguilar
Shorelines staff writer 

Atop wooden stacks on a lot in Jacksonville Beach, an 80-foot-long, 16-foot-wide piece of history is quickly becoming a victim of age and weather.

PT-761, a World War II-era patrol torpedo boat similar to the one commanded by John F. Kennedy in the Pacific Fleet, is in bad shape. Most of the boat's wood is rotting and whatever metal it has left is rusted.

But Massachusetts resident Jim Melanson is confident that PT-761 can be restored and displayed at a naval museum in Salem, Mass. That's why he and two other volunteers from the Northeast branch of the Defenders of American Naval Museum, a non-profit group that helps preserve PT boats, drove from Massachusetts to Jacksonville Beach recently to build a cradle for the boat's journey from Jacksonville Beach to Massachusetts.

"Being that she is in delicate condition, we have to build a cradle for the trip up north," Melanson said.

The three men originally were going to build a wooden cradle around the boat but after they arrived and saw the boat's frail condition, they decided to build a steel cradle. After the cradle is built, a crane will place the boat on it, then the craft will be transported to Mayport Naval Station accompanied by a police escort. The PT boat will then be taken to Massachusetts aboard a Navy auxiliary ship.

"The support we have received from them [Navy] has been incredible," Melanson said.

Melanson's group has spent about $10,000 to build the cradle and to transport the boat, but he said it will take close to $500,000 in materials and four years of volunteer work to make the boat floatable, then another three years of work to refurbish it.

PT-761 never saw any action during World War II because the boat was built at the end of the war. The ship was sold and converted into a luxury boat that cruised from Miami to the Bahamas. On a trip up the coast, the boat came into Jacksonville for repairs and never left, said Charlie Sellers, a Jacksonville Beach resident who helped the non-profit group obtain the boat.

Sellers said the boat sat unattended at the Pablo Creek Marina for years before it was moved to its current location behind the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in south Jacksonville Beach 12 years ago.

Sellers was approached by the boat's owner about buying it because the property where it is now was being sold and the boat had to be removed. He called a PT reunion committee and told them about PT-761 because he did not want to see it destroyed.

A few days later, Melanson called to say he was interested in purchasing the boat. He bought PT-761 for $1.

"I knew she needed a lot of work," Melanson said. "But it is one of three left in her class."

While Melanson and the other volunteers worked feverishly to get the boat ready for its trip, a former PT boat sailor arrived to see not a piece of history but a piece of his past.

St. Augustine resident Norman Martin served on PT-192 for about a year and a half during the war. He came to see PT-761 and verify its authenticity.

"They were something else," Martin said. "The men on them knew the odds, yet we had such confidence on the boat."

Before he left, Martin took one last tour inside the boat.

"I wish you a lot of luck because you have a lot of work," he said.

For more information on PT-761 and its renovation, visit Jacksonville.com, keyword: PT-761.

Staff writer Christopher F. Aguilar can be reached at (904) 249-4947, extension 19 or via e-mail at caguilarjacksonville.com.

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