Veterans Want To Hear Old Pt Boat Howl

PORTLAND - Al McCready never liked PT boats when he served on them. Now he's part of an effort to restore one of the World War II torpedo boats to its original condition.

Over the next two years, a group of PT-boat veterans will refit PT 658 as it rests in a steel cradle on a barge at the Naval Reserve Training Center dock in Portland.

When they do, the 658 will be one of the world's only operational PT boats.

McCready is spokesman for the group Save the PT Boat Inc., whose membership includes about half the 300 or so PT-boat veterans in Oregon and Washington.

"When I was on them I hated them. Thought I was going to get killed," he said. "But in retrospect, when we were doing 40 knots on a calm sea and throwing a rooster tail, that was something to see.

"And there's something about the sound of those engines. When those Packards howl, you've never heard anything like it. We all want to hear that sound again before we go. It's as simple as that."

There are about 8,000 retired PT boaters in the United States, said Clair Brown, a retired Navy reserve captain and president of Save the PT Boat.

"Some say they have RVs and want to know when to show up," she said.

Privately owned, the 658 has rotted in San Francisco Bay near Oakland, Calif., since 1945. The PT-boat group began negotiating to get it in May 1992, said vice president John Akin.

The late owner's son eventually donated it to the PT boat group. It arrived in Portland recently from temporary storage in Tacoma.

PT 658 exists because, as one of the last made, it never got overseas.

After the war, Higgins and Elco, the firms that made PT boats for the U.S. and Royal navies, persuaded the U.S. Navy to leave the roughly 700 boats overseas. As war surplus they glutted the market as cheap yachts, were given to U.S. allies China and Russia, or were burned.

Retired Navy captain Harry Wiedmaier was a seaman 2nd class when he was modifying or burning PT boats in Inchon Harbor in 1946. Now he's making up for it now with PT 658.

Armament and other equipment are being salvaged from a PT boat far beyond repair at the Oregon Military Museum at Camp Withycombe.

Akin said the goal is to have PT 658 in the water in time for the 1996 national PT Veterans Association convention in Portland.

------------------------- SOME FACTS ABOUT PT BOATS ------------------------- -- What is it? A PT Boat is a 55-ton Patrol Torpedo boat made of wood. Elco, Higgins and Huckins made some 700 PT boats for the U.S. Navy, about 100 more for Allied navies. Too small to name officially, they went by hull number. John F. Kennedy served on PT 109. -- Dimensions: Length, 77, 78 and 80 feet; Beam, average 21 feet; Draft, 4 1/2 feet. -- Speed: 45 knots (51.75 mph) in ideal conditions. Armament: Four torpedoes, two twin 50-caliber machine guns. By 1945 most boats had added two 20mm cannons, a 37mm cannon on the bow and a 40mm Bofors cannon on the stern. Guns used often, torpedoes rarely. -- Crew: Two officers, 12 to 18 enlisted. -- Working area: Mostly the Pacific from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, attacking supply barges and patrolling destroyers.