VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) Sailors held a ceremony celebrating the ship’s 35th birthday Jan. 31 while pierside at their Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek homeport.
With 35 years in the fleet, Whidbey Island is the Navy’s oldest non-nuclear powered warship, besides the USS Constitution, having been commissioned Feb. 9, 1985. On hand to commemorate the event were Rear Adm. Erik Ross, Capt. Christopher Wells, and Capt. Ethan Rule, all former Whidbey Island commanding officers, as well as current Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Jean Marie Sullivan.
Ross recalled a Whidbey Island crew mission in 2006. Their goal was to save American citizens in Lebanon after the General Cease-fire with Israel ended.
“When we showed up off the beach less than five miles, we were watching cell phone towers get bombed,” said Ross. “We ended up bringing 817 people back onboard the ship. When they saw the battle ensign and realized they were on sovereign territory of the United States of America even though we were five miles off the beach, they cried and they were happy that they were there.”
In an effort to connect the ship’s historic past with her present, former Sailors were asked to submit memories of their time onboard, which were read at the ceremony by current members of the crew.
“I reported to the pre-commissioning crew in April 1984,” wrote Whidbey Island Plankowner, and retired Personnel Specialist Master Chief Scott Laplante.
“I was the 11th person to report to the ship. I was onboard when she made her one and only visit to her namesake, Whidbey Island, Washington. I left the ship in 1986. In 2017, I took 10 of my Sea Cadets to Little Creek and we rode Whidbey Island up to Boston. It was the first time I had been underway on her in 31 years. It was an absolute thrill.”
The celebration also included presentation of a $1,000 donation to the ship’s Morale Welfare and Recreation fund by a delegation from the Richmond Navy League, and concluded with a traditional cake cutting by the ship’s oldest and youngest Sailors.
The ship is named for Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound, Washington. The first in her class of dock landing ships, Whidbey Island’s mission is to provide a diverse platform in terms of amphibious warfare with the capabilities to transport vehicles, cargo, personnel and aircraft, as well as deploy them for combat or humanitarian purposes.
The ship has participated in deployments and missions to include operation Sharp Edge, Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom. Whidbey Island recently underwent a midlife modernization program to extend its length of service after deploying to the 6th fleet area of operations in 2016. The crew and contractors made necessary repairs and revived the ship to an operational status; it is now preparing to enter a rigorous period of training.
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