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Engine Trouble Scuttles D-Day Voyage : Reunion: The Lane Victory will return to San Pedro because the trip to France can't be completed by June 6 anniversary. 'We're all crying in our beers,' says one merchant marine veteran.

May 10, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was meant to be a triumphant voyage: A 9,000-mile journey to France aboard a restored World War II cargo ship to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the D-day invasion.

But the Lane Victory met defeat.

A week into the trip, the ship's 54 volunteer crew members--former merchant mariners whose average age is 68--have decided to return to San Pedro and abandon the journey.

The ship developed engine trouble five days after leaving Los Angeles and limped into port in Acapulco on Wednesday. The engine is being repaired, but the delay would make it nearly impossible for the crew to arrive in time for the June 6 ceremonies.

"We're all crying in our beers," said Don Mac Lean, a 78-year-old member of the Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II, which owns the 455-foot ship. Mac Lean is one of many who invested countless hours at Berth 53 in San Pedro preparing for the D-day trip, but remained behind because there was limited space aboard the ship.

The Lane Victory and its crew--most of whom are from Southern California--are expected to leave Acapulco for San Pedro on Wednesday.

The crew planned to steam southeast through the Panama Canal and rendezvous with the Jeremiah O'Brien, a World War II liberty ship based in San Francisco that is going to Normandy.

But problems arose near Acapulco when oil leaked into one of the ship's two boilers. Although the leak was repaired at sea, the boiler needed to be cleaned with chemicals that are available only in port, Mac Lean said.

The decision to scrap the trip ends a dream that began in 1992 when the Lane Victory, after being restored by the merchant mariners, took about 700 passengers on a daylong cruise off Santa Catalina Island. It was then that the volunteers began thinking about Normandy, where thousands of veterans will convene June 6.

All told, the group needed more than $1 million in fuel, equipment, supplies and cash to make the Normandy trip.

After numerous delays and a last-minute contribution of $250,000 from the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation of Long Beach, the ship steamed out of Los Angeles Harbor April 29 while hundreds of well-wishers staged a bon voyage party.

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