The USS Blanco County (LST-344), has finally come home. Yes, there really was a ship named the U.S.S. Blanco County. She was one of the essential ships of WW2 designed to bring troops, vehicles and cargo directly to unimproved shores. LSTs were the foundation of the American strategy of bringing the war to the enemy and LST- 344 had a remarkable service record earning battle stars in the invasions of Sicily, Italy and finally at Omaha Beach in Normandy.
The USS Blanco County was originally commissioned as LST- 344, one of the earliest of the LST-1-class of Landing Ship,Tanks, built during World War II. LST-344 was launched on December 15, 1942. She conducted shakedown and amphibious training in Chesapeake Bay until early April 1943, when she sailed in convoy to Algeria before landing on the beaches of Gela, Sicily on 10 July. Sicily was her baptism of fire as she was engaged by several shore batteries and attacked by German aircraft that wounded several soldiers. She offloaded her troops and vehicles and then returned to Tunisia to make five additional landings at Gela between 12 July and the first week in September.
On 7 September LST-344 sailed from Tunisia for the invasion of Italy. She remained off shore from Salerno during the heavy fighting on the first day parrying sporadic German air attacks. On the 10th, she moved onto Red Beach and completed unloading in 90 minutes and made course back to Tunisia from where she made five more reinforcement voyages to Italy between mid-September and 19 October. She was frequently the target of German air attacks during these runs but sustained little damage.
In late November 1943, LST- 344 sailed for Great Britain and conducted amphibious training at various locations throughout the British Isles for the next six months. On D-Day, 6 June, she disembarked troops, vehicles and equipment at Omaha Beach. On her return voyage that night she was attacked by German bombers and reported having helped shoot down one of the attackers. For the next 10 months, LST-344 shuttled back and forth across the English Channel, first to the invasion beaches and, later, to the various French Channel ports after they had been captured and reopened.
LST-344 returned to the United States in March of 1945 for overhaul prior to deployment to the Pacific Theater but Japan capitulated before that could occur and she was then sent to Florida and placed in reserve. She returned to the Mediterranean in 1951 where she conducted various support operations before being officially named the U.S.S. Blanco County on 1 May 1956 before going back into reserve.
In 1966 she was brought back into service for one final campaign. After being refitted she sailed to Da Nang, South Vietnam in November of 1966. The USS Blanco County spent the next three years shuttling around the Far East with a notable tour in supporting the Mobile Riverine Force along the Mekong Delta. She returned to the states in the summer of 1969 and was decommissioned on 3 October 1969 in Orange, Texas and entered the annals of history.
“These LSTS were the unheralded heroes of WW2. They enabled the United States to land troops and equipment on enemy beaches and sustain that force once it was established. We are honored to have received some of the original components of her Bridge that were sent here back in the 70s and we are still looking to find if there are any other artifacts in the area. In the future we’d like to commission a model of the USS Blanco County to give visitors a better feel for what type of fighting ship she was.”
Learn more about the USS Blanco County by visiting the Blanco Country WW2 Museum at the Buggy Barn Museum Complex on N281 or visiting http://ww2blancomuseum.com/lst_344_-_uss_blanco_county