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USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3)

- formerly PHILIPPINE SEA -
- decommissioned -
- sunk as a target -

BELLEAU WOOD was the third ship in the TARAWA - class and the first amphibious assault ship homeported outside the United States. In 2000, the BELLEAU WOOD was relieved by the USS ESSEX (LHD 2) which became the new forward deployed amphibious assault ship in Sasebo, Japan. Decommissioned on October 28, 2005, the USS BELLEAU WOOD spent the following months at the Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility at Pearl Harbor, Hi. On July 13, 2006, the BELLEAU WOOD - which was the first TARAWA - class amphibious assault ship to be decommissioned - was sunk as a target off Kauai, Hawaii.

General Characteristics:Awarded: November 15, 1969
Keel laid: March 5, 1973
Launched: April 11, 1977
Commissioned: September 23, 1978
Decommissioned: October 28, 2005
Builder: Ingalls Shipbuilding, West Bank, Pascagoula, Miss.
Propulsion system: two boilers, two geared steam turbines
Propellers: two
Aircraft elevators: two
Length: 833,34 feet (254 meters)
Flight Deck Width: 132,2 feet (40.3 meters)
Beam: 106,6 feet (32.5 meters)
Draft: 26,25 feet (8 meters)
Displacement: approx. 39,300 tons full load
Speed: 24 knots
Aircraft: (depends upon mission)
6 AV-8B Harrier attack planesor6 AV-8B Harrier attack planes
4 AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters12 CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters
12 CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters9 CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters
9 CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters
4 UH-1N Huey helicopters
Crew: Ship: 82 officers, 882 enlisted    Marine Detachment: 1,900+
Armament: two Rolling Airframe Missile Systems (RAM), four 25mm Mk 38 Gun Mounts, two Phalanx CIWS, four .50 Cal. Mounts

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Crew List:

This section contains the names of sailors who served aboard USS BELLEAU WOOD. It is no official listing but contains the names of sailors who submitted their information.

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About the Ship's Coat of Arms:

The coat of arms of BELLEAU WOOD is a blend of symbols. An image of a fighting U.S. Marine, in World War I battle dress, is at the center of the plaque. He carries a rifle with bayonet, and seems to be beckoning the viewer to follow him. Surrounding the figure are the cross, shield and swords of the Croix de Guerre, the French medal awarded to the Marines who distinguished themselves at Belleau Wood.

Twelve battle stars line the top of the plaque. They stand for the World War II record of LHA 3ís namesake, BELLEAU WOOD (CVL 24). The gap between the sixth and seventh stars represents the shipís only break in its war record. On 30 October 1944, while off Leyte Gulf, BELLEAU WOOD was struck by a kamikaze. The ship then had to undergo repairs and an overhaul, hence the gap.

Blue and gold, the prevailing hues of the coat of arms, are the traditional colors of the Navy. The Tricolor reminds that the battle of Belleau Wood occurred in France, and that the Marines who gave their lives at Belleau Wood did so in defense of another nationís freedom. The segments - red, white, blue - bring to mind the nationís colors as well.

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USS BELLEAU WOOD's Commanding Officers:

September 23, 1978 - July 8, 1980Capt. Ted C. Steele, USN
July 8, 1980 - April 24, 1982Capt. James C. Hayes, USN
April 24, 1982 - August 1, 1983Capt. Henri B. Chase, USN
August 1, 1983 - July 31, 1984Capt. Francis R. Donovan, USN
July 31, 1984 - July 10, 1986Capt. Charles M. Barker, USN
July 10, 1986 - December 11, 1987Capt. Luther F. Schriefer, USN
December 11, 1987 - January 19, 1990Capt. Hubert F. Tahaney, Jr., USN
January 19, 1990 - July 2, 1991Capt. Paul G. Love III, USN
July 2, 1991 - July 6, 1993Capt. Douglas J. Bradt, USN
July 6, 1993 - January 27, 1995Capt. Harry M. Highfill, USN
January 27, 1995 - June 4, 1996Capt. John W. Townes III, USN
June 4, 1996 - January 9, 1998Capt. Frederic R. Ruehe, USN
January 9, 1998 - April 2, 1999Capt. Ward L. Harris, Jr., USN
April 2, 1999 - July 26, 2000Capt. Thomas A. Parker, USN
July 26, 2000 - November 19, 2001Capt. Robert J. Gilman, USN
November 19, 2001 - May 30, 2003Capt. Craig R. Solem, USN
May 30, 2003 - October 28, 2004Capt. Earl L. Gay, USN
October 28, 2004 - October 28, 2005Capt. Robert L. Ford, USN

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USS BELLEAU WOOD was commissioned on September 23, 1978 in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Homeported in San Diego in October 1978, BELLEAU WOOD participated in her first full-scale operation in 1979 off the coast of Hawaii.

BELLEAU WOOD began her first major deployment in January 1981. The ship rescued 150 Vietnamese refugees, earning the crew the Humanitarian Service Medal. The deployment included three major exercises and eight port visits.

In August 1982, the ship began its second deployment and participated in four major amphibious exercises. BELLEAU WOOD's third successful SEVENTH Fleet deployment ran from January to July 1984. The ship then completed an 11-month complex overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington.

In January 1987, BELLEAU WOOD began a deployment which included the first winter amphibious exercises off Alaska since WWII, and introduced the ship to the AV-8B Harrier jump jet. The ship also received the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award for Aviation Safety. On October 4, 1989, the ship hosted the Minister of Defense of the Soviet Union, during his historic visit to the United States.

BELLEAU WOOD entered her second complex overhaul in Long Beach California in 1990. Major work included an upgrade to CIWS and installation of the Rolling Airframe Missile System.

On August 31, 1992, BELLEAU WOOD sailed out of San Diego for the last time, bound for its new homeport in Sasebo, Japan. During this transit, the ship provided disaster relief to the people of Kauai, Hawaii after Hurricane Iniki ravaged the island. For this, the crew was awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal.

On November 24, 1992, BELLEAU WOOD became the last ship to sail out of the Philippines while conducting the final withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Naval Station Subic Bay and Naval Air Station Cubi Point.

Since her move to Japan, BELLEAU WOOD has become a familiar sight at joint-military exercises such as VALIANT USHER in Australia, TEAM SPIRIT in Korea, COBRA GOLD in Thailand and TANDEM THRUST near Guam. BELLEAU WOOD also became the first large-deck Navy ship to undergo pierside maintenance by COMLOGWESTPAC, Singapore. BELLEAU WOOD participated in the World War II 50th anniversary commemoration ceremonies in Guam and the Philippines and served off the coast of Somalia as the command platform for Operation UNITED SHIELD.

In July 2000, BELLEAU WOOD took part in the largest crew swap to date when she was relieved as forward deployed amphibious assault ship. The procedure started when USS ESSEX (LHD 2) arrived in Sasebo on July 13, 2000. The swap was part of a planned rotation of forward deployed naval forces in Japan, and was the third crew-swap exchange. The shipsí crews simply switched ships, minimizing the impact of moving families from homeport to homeport. Sailors in Sasebo assigned to USS BELLEAU WOOD, moved on to ESSEX, while Sailors from San Diego assigned to ESSEX moved aboard BELLEAU WOOD. BELLEAU WOOD and the San Diego-based crew then returned to San Diego in mid-August to begin overhaul and maintenance cycles. BELLEAU WOOD was forward deployed to Sasebo since the fall of 1992.

From January 17 to June 16, 2001 the BELLEAU WOOD conducted a five-month dry dock planned maintenance availability, during which time she had a fifth air conditioning system installed, upgraded collection holding and transfer systems, and revamped combat system and intelligence suites.

On June 15, 2002 the ship deployed to the Indian Ocean in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. While deployed, she participated in exercises INFINITE MOONLIGHT in Jordan and EAGER MACE in Kuwait. She also provided humanitarian assistance off the east coast of Djibouti in October and off East Timor in November before returning to San Diego on December 15.

On January 22, 2003, the BELLEAU WOOD entered the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company Shipyard at San Diego for a complex overhaul that lasted till October 8, 2003.

On May 27, 2004, the ship deployed with an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Her deployment occurred a few weeks earlier than planned and demonstrated the flexibility of naval assets and the Fleet Response Plan (FRP), a plan whereby naval forces have been trained to immediately respond to a crisis or contingency with the required combat power and on short notice. The ESG was commanded by a Marine Corps General - the first time a Marine had been in command of an ESG and USN warships. On July 5, aviation elements in BELLEAU WOOD conducted their first missions in support of the GWOT when they flew close-air support into Iraq. The missions were in support of the coalition forces who were continuing to perform security and stability operations in Iraq. The two AV-8B Harrier IIs flying the mission were from VMA-214 Det B, part of HMM-166 (Reinforced).

The BELLEAU WOOD returned from her last deployment on October 24, 2004, and began preparations for decommissioning.

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Accidents aboard USS BELLEAU WOOD:

January 18, 1989mid-Pacific Ocean
Accidental discharge of a fire fighting foam system during routine maintenance aboard USS BELLEAU WOOD injures six crewmembers while the ship is operating in the Pacific during a six-month deployment.

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About the Shipís Name, about the Battle of Belleau Wood:

Belleau Wood, near Chateau Thierry, France, was the scene of a battle between the 4th Marine Brigade and elements of three German divisions in June 1918. This was part of the larger Battle of the Aisne, launched on 27 May by Germany in the hopes of defeating French forces near Paris before significant American forces could arrive at the front. The German Southern Army Group broke through the British and French divisions defending Chemin des Dames ridge on the first day of the attack, forcing the defenders across the Aisne and Vesle Rivers. German forces continued their advance, reaching the Marne River on 1 June before the offensive slowed.

Meanwhile, the American Army's 2d Division, with the 4th Marine Brigade attached, was ordered from its training areas north of Paris to a position northwest of Chateau Thierry. Attached to the French XXI Corps, the American troops took up positions astride the Paris-Metz highway on 1 June. The following day, a limited German attack rolled back the French outposts and occupied the towns of Tourcy and Bouresches, including the woods called Bois de Belleau between them, in front of the marine positions. As the French fell back through the marines, an officer advised Marine Corps Capt. Lloyd Williams to withdraw his men. Williams replied: "Retreat, hell! We just got here."

On 3 June, the German infantry advanced toward the 4th Brigade but were driven back by heavy artillery and long-range rifle fire. By the 5th, when it became clear that the Germans had shifted to the tactical defensive, the French corps commander ordered the 4th Brigade to attack Bois de Belleau. The month-long action remembered as the Battle of Belleau Wood began on 6 June with a battalion-level attack on a hill near Torcy. Although the assault companies suffered devastating enfilade fire, Hill 142 was taken after bloody hand-to-hand combat.

The following day, three battalions attacked the woods and Boureches from the southwest. Short on artillery support and hobbled by poor maneuver tactics, the marines again suffered heavy losses as they tried to clear the woods of machinegun nests. By evening, they held the edge of Belleau Wood and had cleared Boureches after desperate street fighting. Reinforced and resupplied, they held the town all night against repeated counterattacks. The day's fighting had cost the marines over 1,000 casualties, more than the Corps had lost in its entire history.

The 4th Brigade continued assaults into Belleau Wood for the next twelve days, fighting an attrition-style battle of platoons and squads in the confined wooded terrain. The advance slowed to a crawl as units were decimated in close combat and the entire brigade was forced to pull out of the fighting to regroup on 18 June. Returning to Belleau Wood on 25 June, the marines launched the final two-battalion assault that drove the last German battalion from its trenches. Early in the morning on the 26th, the tired marines reported "Belleau Wood now U.S. Marine Corps entirely."

Although the operation had cost the 4th Marine Brigade 4,719 casualties, and over 1,000 killed, the marines had proved their courage to both the French and the AEF. Heartened by the American performance, the French awarded the division's infantry brigades, including 4th Marine Brigade, unit citations for "gallant action" and officially renamed the wood Bois de la Brigade Marine.

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Click here for more Photos.

The photo below was taken by William Chiu when BELLEAU WOOD visited Hong Kong on July 28, 1995.

The photos below were taken in the western Pacific by Stefan Karpinski during BELLEAU WOOD's 2002 deployment.

The photos below are US Navy photos and were taken on July 10, 2006, showing the BELLEAU WOOD being towed out of Pearl Harbor, Hi, by the USNS NAVAJO (T-ATF 169). The BELLEAU WOOD was subsequently sunk as a target.

The photos below were taken on July 13, 2006, and show the BELLEAU WOOD being sunk by EOD set off bombs. On July 12, 2006, the ship had already taken Harpoon hits and gunfire from the USS MOBILE BAY (CG 53) but refused to sink. Thanks to Mario Silva-Hernandez for contributing the potos.

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