USS La Salle (AGF-3)
|Name:||USS La Salle|
|Namesake:||La Salle, Illinois|
|Ordered:||8 August 1960|
|Builder:||New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York|
|Laid down:||2 April 1962|
|Launched:||3 August 1963|
|Acquired:||21 February 1964|
|Commissioned:||22 February 1964|
|Decommissioned:||27 May 2005|
|Reclassified:||1972 as miscellaneous command ship (AGF-3)|
|Struck:||27 May 2005|
|Fate:||Sunk as target in support of Fleet training exercise, 11 April 2007|
|Class and type:||Raleigh-class amphibious transport dock|
|Speed:||23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)|
|Complement:||72 officers, 593 men, 24 Marines As AGF 750 Marines as LPD|
|Armament:||8 × 3"/50 caliber guns|
|Aircraft carried:||one helicopter|
Her keel was laid down by New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York, on 2 April 1962. She was launched on 3 August 1963 sponsored by Mrs. Victor M. Longstreet, and commissioned on 22 February 1964 with Captain Edward H. Winslow, USN in command.
Amphibious transport, 1964–1972
After shakedown and training in the Caribbean Sea and off Norfolk, Virginia, the amphibious transport dock departed Norfolk on 9 October to participate in "Operation Steel Pike I", a complex training exercise involving over 80 ships and United States and Spanish troops. It closed the coast of Spain off Huelva on 26 October, and embarked Under Secretary of the Navy Paul B. Fay, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Horacio Rivero, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Wallace M. Greene, and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Congressman Mendel Rivers to watch the landing operations.
With then-Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., Commander Amphibious Forces, Atlantic Fleet embarked, La Salle sailed on 1 May for the Dominican Republic during the revolution where she served as Command and Control for the operation, returning to Norfolk on 1 June. Three weeks later it joined the Caribbean Amphibious Ready Squadron, returning to home port on 21 September to begin training operations along the east coast and in the Caribbean.
Through the first half of 1966, La Salle continued operating off the east coast. July and September were spent in Norfolk for upkeep and modifications, with further exercises following. On 3 November, she recovered a Gemini 2-MOL test space capsule near Ascension Island. This was the Gemini 2 space capsule's second flight. This was returned to Cape Kennedy, Florida, and the rest of the year spent on local operations in the Atlantic. La Salle entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 9 January 1967 for repairs and remained there until 20 March. The remainder of 1967 and the first three quarters of 1968 were spent conducting various exercises and port visits which ranged along the entire Atlantic and Gulf coasts and into the Caribbean as well. On 2 November she put into Norfolk to prepare for an extended deployment with the Sixth Fleet. Departing 13 November, she steamed first to Morehead City, North Carolina, and then began her voyage to the Mediterranean Sea.
Command ship, 1972–2005
La Salle was converted to a "miscellaneous command ship" and given the hull classification symbol AGF-3 after an overhaul in 1972. After re-fitting in 1972 she was sent to homeport in Bahrain and serve in a mainly diplomatic capacity, at a time when one of America's main allies in the Middle East, the Shah of Iran, controlled the Persian Gulf. In addition, to highlight its new diplomatic role in the general Middle East region, the La Salle was painted white to highlight its diplomatic as opposed to military missions. Admiral William J. Crowe, who later became Chairman of the Chief of Joint Staffs under Ronald Reagan, was named Commander Middle East Force and assigned to the La Salle to serve in this diplomatic role. Interestingly, in this time before the first Gulf War, piracy off the east coast of Africa and the re-activation of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, only the La Salle along with two U.S. Navy destroyers dispatched from the U.S. east coast on a six-month rotating basis were routinely on patrol in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the general Indian Ocean regions. The LaSalle was considered by the Navy to be isolated duty and anything but a plum assignment by its crew. To symbolize its relatively minor status as a fighting ship at this time, the La Salle's nickname, emblazoned on T-shirts sold in the ship's store and wryly smiled about by those many of the ship's crew who wore them, unofficially became "The Great White Whale". By the time of the first Gulf War the ship had become known, more appropriately to its future operational roles, by its new nickname "The Great White Ghost of the Arabian Coast". Many will remember the network news coverage showing the many Iraqi prisoners being held at gun point in the La Salle's well deck during the first Gulf War. It should also be noted that many of those who sailed aboard her during this later time referred to her as the "Great White Target" due to the lack of effective offensive armament, a paltry 8-3" guns, at a time when tensions in the Persian Gulf region were high.
In 1979, La Salle assisted in the evacuation of 260 American and foreign national civilians from the Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas, and subsequently became the focal point of U.S. activity in the Persian Gulf at the outset of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The ship returned stateside in late 1980 for the first time in almost nine years.
After undergoing an extensive overhaul in Philadelphia, La Salle returned to the Persian Gulf and resumed her role as the flagship for Commander, Middle East Forces (COMMIDEASTFOR) in June 1983, relieving the Coronado (AGF-11). In 1984, the ship conducted mine sweeping operations in the Red Sea in response to attempts to disrupt shipping lanes, and in 1986, conducted contingency operations in the Gulf of Aden during Yemen's civil war.
After the Iraqi missile attack on Stark (FFG-31) in May 1987, La Salle provided the primary fire fighting rescue assistance to the ship.
In June 1988, after spending months in Japan for a major overhaul on the engines, the USS La Salle was heading back to the Persian Gulf. On 3 July 1988 the USS Vincennes shot down Iranian AirBus flight 655, while the USS La Salle was in Subic Bay Philippines for repairs. It became urgent for the ship to return to Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf, off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The USS LaSalle passed the USS Vincennes in the Strait of Hormuz, soon after the incident. On 21 July 1988, the USS LaSalle officially assumed ~Commander of Middle East Forces~and 3 generals and an admiral were assigned to it. An Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal was awarded to the crew members. They played a significant role in the operations, after the Airbus got shot down.
Returning to a conventional gray paint scheme, La Salle assumed responsibilities as the flagship for Commander, Sixth Fleet on 8 November 1994. Homeported in Gaeta, Italy, La Salle was fully engaged in operations throughout the Mediterranean and Black Seas in its role of supporting Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet and Strike Force and Logistics South.
One of the ship's last major assignments was supporting NATO-led efforts to control the international waters off Greece during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. On 25 February 2005, she was relieved by Mount Whitney (LCC-20) as the U.S. Sixth Fleet command ship.
Decommissioning and disposal
The La Salle was decommissioned in Norfolk, Virginia on 27 May 2005, with Captain (later Vice Admiral) Herman Shelanski as its last commanding officer and former La Salle commanding officer, Rear Admiral Mark Milliken, as the decommissioning ceremony guest speaker.
It was sunk as a target by the United States Navy on 11 April 2007 during a scheduled fleet exercise off the Atlantic coast.
- "Great White Ghost" Decommissions in Norfolk. Story Number: NNS050528-01. Release Date: 5/28/2005 9:00:00 AM
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- This article includes information collected from the Naval Vessel Register, which, as a U.S. government publication, is in the public domain. The entry can be found here.
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