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THE LAST OF ITS KIND

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Meet USS Peleliu (LHA 5)
By Harold Hutchison

She is the last of her kind. Once, she and her sister ships were perhaps the most modern amphibious assault vessels in the world. Nowadays, she is the oldest of her type in active service. Her name is USS Peleliu.

She was originally to be named USS Da Nang, after a major air base used by the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War. She later was named for the Battle of Peleliu, a two-and-a-half month ordeal in which 1,794 American servicemen made the ultimate sacrifice. Eight Marines earned the Medal of Honor during that battle.

Originally, she was supposed to be one of nine Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships, but budget issues caused the Navy to only build five vessels. She was commissioned in 1980, and went on to serve in the Pacific Fleet. The 820-foot long ship displaced just under 40,000 tons. She could carry a half-dozen AV-8B Harriers and a couple dozen helicopters, as well as a single hovercraft, or LCAC (Landing Craft, Air Cushioned).

The ship could carry two thousand Marines, both to fly and maintain the aircraft and helicopters, as well as the bulk of a Marine infantry battalion. The Peleliu took part during the initial stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.

She is slated to be decommissioned in 2015. One of her sister ships, USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) was sunk as a target in 2005, a second, USS Saipan (LHA 2), was sold for scrap, and two others, USS Tarawa (LHA 1) and USS Nassau (LHA 4), are in reserve.