USS Peleliu decommissioned after nearly 35 years of service

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SAN DIEGO -- The Navy Tuesday decommissioned the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu -- known as the “Iron Nickel'' -- in a ceremony at Naval Base San Diego.

The 820-foot-long vessel, which called San Diego and Long Beach home during its nearly 35 years of service, deployed 17 times and steamed more than 1 million nautical miles, according to the Navy. Its final deployment ended last Christmas Eve when it pulled into San Diego Bay.

The decommissioning ceremony marked an end of a career for the ship that deployed on several humanitarian and peacekeeping missions over the years, including a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“It’s a bittersweet day because it’s the end of the ship’s life, which is a pretty big deal in the Navy," Lieutenant Commander Charles Becker said. "It’s also sweet in a sense that people are moving on to their next job, wherever that may be around the world. So, you’re saying goodbye to old friends but also embarking on a new chapter in your life."

Hundreds of former crew members and Marines transported by the ship attended the decommissioning ceremony. The ship will now be towed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where it will join the Navy's reserve fleet.

“This ship today, nearly 35 years later, after England delivered it to us looks just as good as it did 35 years ago when we returned back to the United States Navy,” said Rear Admiral Frank Ponds.

He said the ship’s motto, "Peace through Power," is important to democracy.

“That doesn’t just happen by accident, or doesn’t happen by mistake. It is based on the crews that have taken care of this ship, the crews that have manned this ship, operated this ship and maintained this ship,” Ponds said.

He said that is all thanks to the hard work of each sailor and Marine who has spent time aboard the ship.

“You cannot broker the peace without the threat of power,” Ponds said.

Becker agreed.

“It’s a huge national asset," he said. "It’s how we protect our power and hopefully through that power we maintain peace.”

The Peleliu, named for a Pacific island where a bloody World War II battle took place, was commissioned May 3, 1980, in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

It's the last of the Navy's five Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships to be in service. The Navy began decommissioning that class of warship in 2005.

This year, the Navy is expected to replace them with America-class amphibious assault ships, which are designed to carry helicopters and other small aircraft that can help transport troops from ship to shore more easily.

“There’s a new one that just came out, that’s a similar class of ship...so, it’s basically being replaced at the same time," Becker said.

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