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5:01 pm
Tue January 8, 2013

USS Inaugural To Finally Emerge From Her Watery Grave

A mini excavator will soon be used to help dismantle the USS Inaugural
A mini excavator will soon be used to help dismantle the USS Inaugural
Credit Adam Allington / St. Louis Public Radio

The wreckage of the USS Inaugural is set to finally be cut up and hauled away after nearly 20 years of being stuck on the bottom of the Mississippi River, south of downtown St. Louis.

Low water on the river has left the World War II Minesweeper nearly high and dry for the first time since it was ripped from its mooring during the 1993 flood.

For over 20 years the Inaugural was berthed as a museum ship on the St. Louis Riverfront.  When the ship broke free it floated nearly a mile downstream, south of the Poplar Street Bridge before finally sinking on the Missouri-side of the river…and there she stayed, her bow and deck occasionally rising out of the river during low water, but never anything like this year.

Jim Fleshman, of Fleshman and Son Excavators was hired by the Inaugural’s owner, John Patzius to free the ship from its watery grave and convey her to a final resting place.

“We’re cutting it up in pieces and toting it up the hill, putting it in trailers and it will go to the scrap yard,” says Fleshman.

Fleshman estimates it will take about three weeks to complete the job.  The ship weighs some 530 tons and should fetch north of $100,000 in scrap value according to Fleshman.  He says he's salvaged boats before, but nothing quite like the massive Admirable-Class Minesweeper.

“We’re going to use big cutting torches and me and my crew, that’s it” remarks Fleshman. “The compartments are full of sand and dirt, so it’s not going to be the easiest thing, but…it will happen.”

Fleshman has used bulldozers to plow a makeshift road down the 100 feet of steep Mississippi River embankment, where his cranes and equipment can access the ship.

The salvage title on the Inaugural is owned by John Patzius, an associate of the late City Museum founder, Bob Cassilly.

The Inaugural served in the Pacific theater, and was active clearing mines around Saipan and Okinawa.

It is one of two remaining Admirable-Class minesweepers.

Follow Adam Allington on Twitter:  @aallington

H/T to Michael Allen of the Preservation Research Office for bringing this story to our attention.