James Behrend enlisted in the Navy at age 18 and was sworn during a special ceremony on July 4, 1942, in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After completing basic training and signalman school, Jim served aboard three LST’s that encompassed both the Asiatic-Pacific and European Theaters during WWII.
His first assignment was aboard LST 463, 7th Fleet, based out of Portland, Oregon. LST 463 was part of the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, and during Jim’s time aboard, was based out of Newcastle, Australia, where it was used as amphibious training ship. It made a successful landing during Operation Backhander on December 26, 1943 where it was fully engaged in the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the Island of New Britain, Territory of New Guinea.
After The Battle of Cape Gloucester, Jim was reassigned to LST 543 based out of New York. LST 543 proceeded to England, where it took part in Operation Overlord. LST 543 landed on Juno Beach on D-Day, carrying Canadians. Jim recalls making numerous trips across the English Channel caring wounded troops, mostly Canadians, over the next several weeks.
On June 16, 1944, LST 543 was among the first LST to land on the newly built man-made Mulberry Harbor on Omaha beach, where it delivered tanks, troops and supplies.
On June 19, a powerful two-day storm hit Omaha Beach. Jim recalls that LST 543 was pushed hard aground by other vessels and strong winds and lay stranded for several weeks. When she was finally freed, she limped her way to Portsmouth, England, where she was put onto dry dock, quickly repaired, and then resumed its role as a resupply ship to the Normandy Beaches for, as Jim recalls, another 2-3 months.
Jim then accompanied LST 543 to Newport News, VA, where the ship spent 6 months undergoing major repairs. He stayed aboard the ship while the repairs were being made. As repairs were nearing completion, he received new orders and was assigned to LST Group Staff 102, which took him to the Philippines. He ended his Navy career in San Francisco where he was honorably discharged.
A beneficiary of the GI Bill, Jim attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1949. In the summer of 1948, he met his future wife, Jeanne Allen, a grade school teacher from Staten Island, NY who took a summer class at The University of Wisconsin. They married in 1950 and enjoyed 53 years together before Jeanne’s death in 2003.
Shortly after graduating from college, Jim moved to New York where he worked for General Mills as a chemist for several years. He then convinced Jeanne to leave New York, and headed to Washington, DC for a job with the Atomic Energy Commission. Jim retired from the Department of Energy with 30 plus years of service. Never one to sit still for long, Jim went to work for SAIC as a consultant for 10 years. He fully retired in 2000.
For the last 56 years Jim has been a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Garrett Park, Maryland. He remains very active on a daily basis volunteering for both the church and the church school activities.