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The USS Frederick, the Navy's last LST (tank landing ship) and Hawai'i's only amphibious ship, is being decommissioned in October. The USS Frederick, the Navy's last LST, is retiring from the fleet in October. Navy veteran Milan Gunjak, a civilian, said he understands the ship is bound for Mexico. U.S. Navy photo
"That's it there are no more LSTs," said Navy veteran Milan Gunjak, who served on the beach landing ships from 1943 to 1949. "It's like a battleship. It's the end of an era." The 32-year-old Newport-class ship, which differs from its World War II counterparts in that it doesn't run itself onto the beach, still got close enough to the action with a 112-foot bow ramp to offload cargo and vehicles. "The practical use for an LST to do amphibious landings is a bygone era," said Gunjak, an Ohio resident and president of the United States LST Association. Some 1,051 LSTs were built through the war years, Gunjak said, followed by 20 Newport-class ships.

These days, big-deck amphibious assault ships such as the 844-foot Bonhomme Richard, homeported in San Diego, transport 1,500 combat Marines and disgorge helicopters and hovercraft that hit the beach. For Kane'ohe Bay Marines, the Frederick's primary customer, the 523-foot landing ship proved a valuable and available training partner that they'll no longer have.

The "Freddie," with 13 officers and 244 enlisted sailors, was put to use on average once a month for everything from one-day Marine amphibious assault vehicle landings at Bellows Air Force Station to six-week training runs to San Diego and five-month deployments for CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) military engagement exercises with countries like Indonesia. LST 1184 can carry as many as 350 Marines, 30 to 40 trucks, another 30 to 40 Humvees, and a dozen howitzers. "We've used her for the past five years a lot," said Maj. John Claucherty, assistant operations officer for Marine Corps Base Hawai'i. "I'd say it's fair to say we're disappointed she's going to leave." Navy Region Hawai'i spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said the ship's age and the fact that it's one of a kind have made operating it cost-prohibitive.

Although Hawai'i-based Marines are considered a "fly-in" force meaning they typically fly to ports to meet up up with pre-positioned merchant ships for missions U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, is attempting to secure replacement amphibious transports. "I can tell you Sen. Inouye has had meetings with senior Navy officials with regard to bringing at least one amphibious ship from the Atlantic to the Pacific to support the movement of troops, primarily Marines," said Jennifer Goto Sabas, Inouye's chief of staff for Hawai'i. Sabas said the "equaling out" of Marines to ships between the Atlantic and Pacific fleets "seems to be an equitable and strategic thing to do."

Three Marine infantry battalions are permanently assigned to Hawai'i, with one always forward-deployed to Okinawa. About 8,000 Marines are based at Kane'ohe Bay. Marine Maj. Chris Hughes, a spokesman for the Marine Corps base, said it's still important for Hawai'i Marines to develop the skills of embarking and coming ashore, and amphibious ships like the Frederick provide the opportunity to do that. In June, the Frederick transported Marines to the Big Island and back for training. During recent Rim of the Pacific naval exercises, meanwhile, amphibious assault ships like the 820-foot USS Tarawa and 609-foot dock landing ship USS Rushmore both with home ports in San

Diego were used for beach assaults. Short of another amphibious ship being sent to Hawai'i, Marines will have to rely on other vessels being routed here. Claucherty also said the Marines can use U.S. Army logistic support vessels, or LSVs, for training. In Hawai'i, the Army has two of the ships. But Claucherty said the use of the Frederick provided a low-cost partnership for the "blue-green" team of Navy and Marine Corps personnel for training trips like those to San Diego where sailors could go to school and live aboard ship. Most of the crew of the Frederick have follow-up orders. Gunjak, who sailed from Pearl Harbor to San Diego aboard the Frederick in 1998 as a guest, said he and at least a half-dozen other LST veterans from the Mainland are planning to come out in October for the decommissioning. He also was there for the decommissioning of the USS Barnstable County, LST 1197, in Virginia in the mid-1990s.

The old 542-class LSTs that Gunjak served on, nicknamed "large slow targets" by their crews, had bow doors through which soldiers and vehicles disembarked. The Newport-class LSTs, first deployed in 1969, still were in harm's way close to the beach. "We dropped a stern anchor 900 yards out and ran that sucker right up on the beach," Gunjak said. "There are several types of amphibious ships out there now, but nothing that can compare to a World War II LST or even a Newport-class LST." News Release July 24/02