By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph R. Wax, Fleet Public Affairs Center Atlantic
The Navy bid farewell to the amphibious assault ship USS Saipan (LHA 2), April 20 in a decommissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk.
During its 29 year career, the ship’s primary mission was to transport Marine Corps forces. However, Saipan was also involved in providing evacuation and disaster relief when needed.
“We are here today to honor the history and legacy of this fine ship, but more importantly the people who served on it,” said Saipan Commanding Officer Capt. Richard Fitzpatrick. “The decommissioning signals the end of an era. We honor the men and women who gave their time, service and in some cases, their lives.”
Saipan was commissioned Oct. 15, 1977, and made the first Mediterranean deployment by an amphibious assault ship in 1980. The ship deployed eight more times to the Mediterranean and deployed to the Persian Gulf multiple times in support of operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
In 1990, Saipan participated in the evacuation of approximately 1,600 civilians from Liberia in support of Operation Sharp Edge. Saipan provided a presence in the Adriatic Sea during the 2000 federal elections in Yugoslavia, and gave support to the first ever U.S.-Croatian exercise. In 2005, it deployed to Haiti where it offloaded Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) One, and nearly 1,200 tons of equipment used to rebuild schools and wells in the hurricane-ravaged country. In December 2006, Saipan returned from its final deployment.
“As the world continues to evolve so too must the Navy,” said Rear Adm
. Michael Nowakowski, former Saipan commanding officer and current President, Board of Inspection and Survey. “This evolution of continual change drives the process of commissions and decommissions.”
Saipan was the second U.S. ship to bear the name. Its predecessor, the carrier Saipan (CVL 48), served from July 1946 to January 1970. The name Saipan was taken from an integral WWII battle on the island of Saipan.
Saipan and its Sailors received numerous awards during its 29 years of service, including six Battle “E” awards, three Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals and the Humanitarian Service Medal.
“Without its crew it is just 40,000 tons of welded steel,” said Fitzpatrick. “Saipan’s legacy is going to live on through these fine professionals.”
Saipan will be used for weapons effect testing, providing vital information on structural integrity and survivability which will assist in the designing and planning of future ships. After the tests have been conducted it will be transferred to the inactive fleet.
“You have served your nation and the Navy well,” Nowakowski said during his closing remarks. “The Sailors from your 19 crews will keep alive your legacy; Fair Winds and Following Seas.”