PT-305 was dedicated at a March 25, 2017, ceremony attended by WWII PT-boat veterans, Museum Trustees, generous funders of the project, and restoration volunteers. Celebrants and dignitaries on the dais included Gayle Higgins Jones, granddaughter of Andrew Jackson Higgins; Roland von Kurnatowski, owner and operator of Lakeshore Landing, where PT-305’s custom-built boathouse is located; and James A. Courter, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The National WWII Museum. Midway through the ceremony, Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD, the Museum’s founding President & CEO, read every name of PT-305's volunteer crew and asked those present to stand. By the time the long list was finished, all at the ceremony were standing for a rousing ovation.
“We’ve had a great journey—10 years developing this great boat with a dedicated staff of volunteers,” Dr. Mueller said. “I just want to offer my thanks to the devotion of all of those who have helped bring PT-305—the USS Sudden Jerk—to life.”
Her story reaches back to Higgins Industries in New Orleans (where PT-305 was built and tested in 1943, and where she earned her nickname after a rough docking experience), then combat service in the Mediterranean theater, and finally a long and productive postwar life as a tour craft, fishing charter, and oyster boat.
Substantially modified over the years, including a dramatic reduction in length, PT-305 was brought to the Museum in April 2007 and eventually installed in the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion. Nearly 10 years—and three miles of caulk, 12,459 feet of cable and wiring, and 39,000 copper rivets—later, PT-305 returned to her home waters of Lake Pontchartrain for thrilling rides and fascinating deck tours. There, she’s serving again as a time-traveling vessel for education about wartime technology, Home Front ingenuity, and the stories of the brave men who served aboard her.
PT-305’s next chapter was celebrated on the evening of the dedication ceremony at a splendid Drafts for Crafts launch party thrown by the Museum’s Young Benefactors. It was a classic New Orleans bash PT-305’s wartime crews would’ve enjoyed in their prime.
“PT-305 began her journey as a vessel of war,” said Museum Senior Curator and Restoration Manager Tom Czekanski at the dedication ceremony. “It was then a vessel of commerce. Today, it enters a new stage of its journey as a vessel of remembrance.”
The day after the dedication ceremony, a special PT-305 ride was arranged for PT-boat veterans, their families, and supporters of the project. “A ride like this is one of the main reasons we restored the 305, to pay homage to the veterans that we’ve had on board,” said George Benedetto, a restoration-crew veteran and senior captain of PT-305.
Aboard for the voyage was Jim Nerison, a PT-305 torpedoman during WWII combat in the Mediterranean. Earlier, he’d been the first PT-boat veteran to ride aboard PT-305 after restoration—with a crew from CBS This Morning aboard to document the scene. (PT-305’s return to Lake Pontchartrain was national news, featured in stories by NBC Nightly News, USA Today, and a widely distributed Associated Press story, among others.) One anecdote the CBS News camera recorded captured the spirit of PT-305’s wartime crews so evident in service-era photos of the young men at work and play. Nerison revealed that PT crews would sometimes siphon the 180-proof grain alcohol that fueled PT-305’s torpedoes for a cocktail-hour libation. “The torpedo wasn’t going to use it all anyway,” Nerison said. “We called it torpedo juice.”
Kali Martin, a PT-305 restoration volunteer who’s now a Museum researcher, has studied the men who served aboard the boat, gathering photos and anecdotes about PT-305’s service history. Nerison is featured on several of the informational panels displayed in PT-305’s boathouse. “He is the sweetest guy,” she said as the veterans had their post-dedication ride. “I think he feels 19 again. To share PT-305 with a PT-305 veteran is really cool.”
Two PT-boat veterans aboard, Martin Sherbecoe and Joe Pinkava, were delivered to New Orleans for their ride and accompanying festivities by the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Soaring Valor project. Also aboard was Bill King, who served on PT-308 in the same Ron 22 squadron as PT-305. After disembarking, King pointed out that PT-308—though scuttled and submerged—contributed exhaust scoops to PT-305’s restoration. “It was nice,” King said of his first PT-boat ride in more than seven decades. King then pointed to the boat’s forward deck, fixed with a small American flag and a restored 20mm gun. “I spent most of my time right there,” he said. “I was on the 20mm gun, and I took care of the flag.”
This post originally appeared in the summer 2017 edition of V-Mail, the quarterly newsletter for Museum Members.