A hugely satisfying part of restoring a WWII-era vessel is piecing together her history. Many Miki-class Tugboats were honored with the names of war heroes and we had heard that (LT-366) Dominion’s first written name was PVT Romeo A. LeClair, although we could find no proof from her documented history.
A few years back, we were given a collection of vintage photos taken of LT-366 by George Shaw, an engineer who had served aboard during the Korean War, and one of the photos clearly showed that the name of the ship at the time was PVT Romeo A. LeClair!
The relevance of the Miki Class, and the provenance of Dominion specifically, quite possibly makes it one of the most unique vessels around. Dominion is a world-class example of a very large ocean going tugboat of wooden construction. Dominion is one of 61 Miki class tugboats originally commissioned by the United States Army during World War II. Designated LT-366, she was built by the Grays Harbor Shipbuilding Company of Hoquiam, WA in 1944. Of the 61 Miki class tugs only three are known to be in existence today. As the Patricia Foss (1958-1980), Dominion was the last working Miki, it is believed, and the last surviving West Coast built Miki in the world. Only two other Miki's exists today of the original fleet of 61. Most historians consider Dominion the most original example of a Miki. This class of tugboat has been well documented in books, such as John Benthien’s “The Forgotten Fleet of 61″. In that record, all Miki's were tracked through their unique journeys through history. They were locally designed, and most were locally built; attesting to the ingenuity and maritime legacy found in the Northwest. Dominion’s history compliments her neighbor the Vietnam Era Navy destroyer Turner Joy at the Port of Bremerton. It is likely that the Dominion herself has towed or maneuvered war ships like the Turner Joy during her early years of service. Today the Dominion serves as a mobile maritime museum and community development platform with an educational focus. This vessel in many ways acts as an ambassador, representing its home port and regional partners in festivals and events while being an example of safety and responsibility in the historic tug boat community.
Private First Class LeClair was serving as a Medical Aidman when his unit, occupying positions on the east bank of a strategic river, was supporting an attack against savagely defended positions on the hostile bank*. His platoon was continually subjected to intense artillery, mortar and machine gun fire and, at daybreak, was ordered to dig in to afford maximum protection. Because of the heavy enemy fire, his platoon sustained numerous casualties and PFC LeClair, contemptuous of personal safety, worked indefatigably among the wounded, administering prompt and effective first aid. While shell explosions shook the ground around him, he ran from position to position attending his injured comrades. In a moment of respite, he had started digging a foxhole when his entrenching tool struck an enemy S-mine**. Instantly aware that the explosive would endanger the lives of many of his fellow soldiers, he threw himself on the mine, sacrificing his life to protect the lives of his comrades. His unselfishness, his devotion to duty and his extraordinary heroism inspired the men to continue the attack with grimmer determination and carry on through to their ultimate objective.
*The formidable German main line of defense on the west bank of Rapido River. The battle of the Rapido River was one of the largest defeats suffered by the U.S. Army during World War II.
**S-mine - also known as the "Bouncing Betty”. When triggered, these mines launch into the air and then detonate at about 3 ft. The explosion projects a lethal spray of shrapnel in all directions.
Visit PFC Romeo LeClair’s memorial page: http://tinyurl.com/hebugq5
Read more about the Battle of Rapido River: http://tinyurl.com/jeq8qxq
LECLAIR, ROMEO A. (MIA-KIA)
Private First Class, U.S. Army
143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division
Action Date: 21 January 1944
Synopsis: The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Romeo A. Leclair (31200648), Private First Class, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as a Medical Aidman with the 143d Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 21 January 1944, near the Rapido River in Italy. Private First Class LeClair's intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 36th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
General Orders: Headquarters, Seventh U.S. Army, General Orders No. 70 (1944)
• Distinguished Service Cross
• Bronze Star
• Purple Heart
• Combat Infantryman Badge
• American Campaign Medal
• World War II Victory Medal
Home Town: Chitenden, Vermont
Burial: Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial
Città Metropolitana di Roma Capitale
Plot: Tablets of the Missing
Story by: Joe Paul of J.Paul Design