LHD-7 is the second ship to bear the name “IWO JIMA.” The first, LPH-2, designed from the keel up as an amphibious assault ship, was launched Sept. 17, 1960 at Bremerton, Washington and commissioned Aug. 26, 1961.
In September 1963, Iwo Jima (LPH 2) made its first deployment to the Western Pacific, one of six deployments the ship would make to the region. In April 1970, Iwo Jima (LPH 2) made history while serving as the primary recovery ship for Apollo 13, the crippled lunar landing mission.
In June 1976, Iwo Jima (LPH 2) commenced its fourth deployment to the Mediterranean and participated in the evacuation of civilians from Beirut, Lebanon. In August 1990, two weeks after the initial deployment of troops to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield, Iwo Jima (LPH 2) became the first amphibious assault ship to deploy to that area, and served as part of the coalition which ultimately drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. USS Iwo Jima (LPH 2) was decommissioned in 1993, after 32 years of service.
Fabrication work for the new USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) began at Ingalls shipyard on Sept. 3, 1996, and the ship’s keel was laid on Dec. 12, 1997. The ship was launched on Feb. 4, 2000, and was christened by its sponsor, Mrs. Zandra Krulak, wife of Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Krulak, in Pascagoula, Mississippi on March 25, 2000.
The commissioning crew moved aboard in April 2001 and made the ship’s maiden voyage (accompanied by more than 2,000 World War II veterans-many of them survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima) on June 23, 2001. The ship was commissioned a week later in Pensacola, Florida, on June 30, 2001. Shortly thereafter, the ship and crew began an accelerated inter-deployment training cycle.
Together with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Special Operations Capable (SOC), USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) conducted its maiden, eight-month deployment, returning to Norfolk in October 2003.
Completing essentially four deployments in one, Iwo Jima’s operational capabilities were put to the test as the ship inserted marines from the 26 MEU (SOC) into Northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, patrolled the Persian Gulf, conducted operations in and around Djibouti as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and executed a peacekeeping missions off the coast of war-torn Liberia, transiting more than 45,000 nautical miles.
After a post deployment maintenance period, Iwo Jima became the flagship for Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet (C2F) in October 2004. For over a year, Iwo Jima participated in many high visibility exercises, experiments, and operations with U.S. and allied naval forces.
On Aug. 31, 2005, Iwo Jima was sortied to the Gulf of Mexico to provide disaster relief and to conduct support operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Iwo Jima sailed up the Mississippi River to the city of New Orleans to directly support relief operations and act as the central command center for all federal, state, and local disaster recovery operations.
During this critical period, Iwo Jima also served as the region’s only fully functional air field for helicopter operations, conducting over one thousand flight deck operations; provided hot meals, showers, drinking water, and berthing to thousands of National Guardsmen and relief workers; provided medical services, including first aid and surgical services, for disaster victims; and conducted clean-up operations in the city and suburbs of New Orleans.
Iwo Jima was proud to serve as flagship for the commander-in-chief, George W. Bush, and is only the second Navy ship to have been presented the flag of the President of the United States of America.