USS Peleliu returns on Christmas Eve

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SAN DIEGO - Just in time for Christmas, sailors and Marines aboard the USS Peleliu returned Wednesday to a joyful throng of loved ones at Naval Base San Diego.

The 820-foot-long, 25-ton-plus amphibious assault ship will be decommissioned in March after 34 years of service, during which it deployed 17 times and covered millions of miles, according to Naval Surface Forces' public affairs office.

The Peleliu is 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.

Starting next 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.

During its final deployment, the Peleliu conducted exercises throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and made port visits in Guam, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore. The deployment lasted about six months.

“Peleliu and her crew performed superbly throughout the deployment,” said Commodore Heidi Agle, commander of Amphibious Squadron 11. “I am proud to have served with such outstanding sailors and Marines during the ship's final deployment.”

“The crew routinely stepped up and exceeded my expectations during this challenging final deployment,” added the ship's skipper, Capt. Paul Spedero. “I know that would not have been possible without the enormous support of our families and friends back at home.''

The Peleliu was named for the World War II Battle of Peleliu, during which 1,256 Marines died while fighting to gain control of the small island, part of the nation of Palau.