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A WWII 'Ghost Boat' Has Emerged from a Lake in California with Incredible Ties to U.S. History

WWII Ghost Boat Higgins boat
Photo- Courtesy Shasta-Trinity National Forest

A summer of receding water levels in the U.S. has yielded another major surprise. A Higgins boat, which was used to transport troops onto beaches throughout WWII, has emerged from drought-stricken Lake Shasta in California.

Known as the Ghost Boat, the decaying frame is now completely exposed on the lake bed. Even more, the story of the Ghost Boat and how it found its way to the bottom of Lake Shasta has revealed incredible ties to U.S. history.

“The circumstance of its sinking remains a mystery,” US Forest Service officials with Shasta-Trinity national forest wrote in a Facebook post. But more than that, the hull numbers prove it was used by some of WWII's most important figures. The hull, marked as '31-17,' was assigned to the Attack Transport USS Monrovia, which served as General George Patton's aquatic headquarters during the Sicilian occupation in Italy in 1943. The hull design is generally known as a Higgins boat, but is referred to in military lingo as an LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle & Personnel).

Dwight D. Eisenhower was also on the boat during the same period. The eventual U.S. President served as the 16th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during the later stages of the war, and became the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1951-1952. As such, Eisenhower was closely involved with Patton and other high ranking U.S. military command during and after the war. Eisenhower would go on to become President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.

“Eisenhower also was on this ship at that time, and it went on to a further six D-Day invasions in the Pacific,” officials said in the Facebook post.

If you’ve watched Saving Private Ryan, you might recognize the Higgins boat that Tom Hanks, who played Captain John H. Miller, and his men used to land on Omaha Beach during the movie's iconic opening scene.

Eisenhower even said himself of the design, "If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel), we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”

Not only did the Ghost Ship host some notable historical figures, it also partook in some other major battles during WWII. According to officials, '31-17' was also used in the Battle of Tarawa, which marked the first American offensive in the Pacific region in 1943. The boat reportedly "sank in shallow water during the invasion" but was later salvaged by engineers.

The ship would go on to earn a total of seven 'battle stars' during WWII. According to NavSource, a volunteer-run historical cataloguing site, the larger USS Monrovia was sold for scrap in 1969, presumably taking '31-17' to the scrapyard with it.

So how did the Higgins '31-17' end up back in the hands of the general public, and then at the bottom of Lake Shasta? No one seems to know. But until the mystery is solved, '31-17' will he headed to a museum in Nebraska for some much needed refurbishing before going on display.

“There is more to discover of its history and obviously its time on Shasta Lake,” said the officials. “It really is quite remarkable how it emerged from the lake with so many stories to tell.” Despite the strange travels '31-17' undoubtedly took back to California post-WWII, it's surprisingly common for decommissioned wartime watercraft to find their way into civilian hands. In 2020, John F. Kennedy's WWII patrol boat 'PT-59' was discovered sunken in the Harlem River after having served as a converted houseboat in Manhattan for decades.

It's also the second Higgins to reach the surface this summer. Back in July, another Higgins boat was exposed in Lake Mead.

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