Hundreds Bid a Tearful Farwell to the ‘Iron Nickel’ after 34 Years of Service
SAN DIEGO – Hundreds of current and former crew members, 10 previous commanding officers, and their family members crowded onto the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) to bid farewell to the “Iron Nickel” during the ship’s decommissioning ceremony at Naval Base San Diego, March 31.
Tears wet the eyes of many of the former Sailors and Marines in attendance as the flag was hauled down, the watch was secured and the crew of the most famous ships in the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet ceremoniously disembarked the vessel for the final time.
Peleliu was named after the Battle of Peleliu which took place from Sept. 15 to Nov. 27, 1944 in which 1,256 Marines gave their lives to take the island which was being held by the Imperial Japanese Army.
Rear Adm. Marcus A. Hitchcock, the current Director of Fleet and Joint Training at U.S. Fleet Forces Command, was the ship’s 18th commanding officer from March 2008 to September 2009 and served as the guest speaker for the ceremony.
Hitchcock talked not only about his time as commanding officer, but also about how he read many books and studied up on the ship’s namesake when he received orders to become the ship’s commanding officer. In addition, he spoke about how he was fortunate enough to host a ship’s tour in the summer of 2009 for Marine veterans from the actual Battle of Peleliu.
“These Marines had seen and done extraordinary things on a remote island called Peleliu. Like millions of their generation, they were committed to keeping America free,” said Hitchcock. “They came to represent grit and determination. It was fighting men like these for which this warship is named.”
Hitchcock also thanked all the plankowners and former crew members in attendance for their service to the ship over the past 34 years.
“From that first deployment onward, USS Peleliu and her crew demonstrated time and again that she always achieved the mission, to perfection, with style and in ways that had never been seen before,” said Hitchcock. “Except on rare occasions, USS Peleliu never did it alone. She always had a teammate by her side, the U.S. Marine Corps.”
To close his remarks, Hitchcock led the audience in three cheers to mark the grit and determination of all the Sailors and Marines who served on board Peleliu during her years of service.
Capt. Paul C. Spedero, Peleliu’s last commanding officer, read the decommissioning orders and gave the order to disembark the ship.
“From Deputy Chief of Naval Operations to commanding officer, USS Peleliu, subject, decommissioning of USS Peleliu,” read Spedero. “On 31 March, 2015, decommission USS Peleliu and transfer to the inactive reserve. Executive officer, disembark the crew.”
During 34 years of service, Peleliu was homeported in both Long Beach and San Diego on the California coast as thousands of Sailors and Marines called the ship home. Capable of launching a coordinated air and sea attack from one platform, Peleliu conducted 17 deployments, 178,051 flight operations, served 57,983 personnel and steamed approximately 1,011,946 nautical miles since being commissioned May 3, 1980 in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
After the decommissioning process is complete, Peleliu will be towed from San Diego to Hawaii to join the Navy’s reserve fleet. There, the last of its class amphibious assault ship will take its place alongside its sister ship and first in class, the ex-USS Tarawa (LHA 1).