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Majestic USS Belleau Wood Cruises with Okinawa Guests

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 2000-02-20

“The Titanic sank, okay... but the Belleau Wood will never go down!”

Some 1485 guests from Okinawa - military members, SOFA status personnel and their families, Japanese businessmen and other island VIPs, joined the big crew of the USS Belleau Wood aboard the “Big Dawg” last Saturday, February 12th, for what turned out to be a most unforgettable cruise. The majestic ship’s Guest Cruise 2000 took off from the shores of White Beach in the early hours of the morning with one stated mission: “To embark, deploy, entertain and land numerous families and friends in a fascinating and unforgettable experience!”

After the guests had all assembled in the huge hangar following embarkation between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., they had light breakfast service and safety briefings, then the ship got underway at 9:00 o’clock. Guests onboard were treated to a whole lot of military entertainment, including static displays of Marine Ground Combat Equipment and Navy Damage Control Gear. Guests also watched with amazement as a Landing Craft Utility (LCU) was recovered into the “belly” of the ship. AD3 Russell Lloyd, an aviation machinist on board for over a year, told Japan Update that the LCU could carry 300 people in an amphibious assault and for medical landings. It also had a birthing place for 12.

Meanwhile, most of the entertainment was on the Flight Deck, where helicopters flew from the ship, over and around the ship several times, finally offering perfect demonstrations of Helo Fast Rope landings. All through the day, the cruise that took guests far off the coast of Okinawa allowed them to discover what it is like to live on a huge battle ship. Men, women and children alike were subject to special treatment by the Belleau Wood crew wherever they went in the huge carrier that someone described as “a city moving on water.” The best part of the outing, for most, may have been the sumptuous and delicious food that was served for lunch. One Japanese commented that it was the best food he had ever had on any American facility.

Speaking to reporters just before the cruise got underway, Cap. Tom Parker (Belleau Wood Commanding Officer), Col. Fulton (31st Marine Expeditionary Unit) and Cap. Lee Toucheberry (Amphibious Squadron Commander), said the cruise was designed “to give a little something back to the Okinawa community, our second home.” It was a day for the local businessmen and Okinawa government authorities to join their American friends in relaxation, while military families got a first hand view of their spouses’ lives on a battle ship.

Many of the people on board expressed satisfaction all day long with the services and entertainment onboard. Leon Hill, Battalion Commander of the Okinawa Young Marines, who had taken Young Marines onboard, said the cruise had given them an opportunity to come face to face with the daily experience of parents in the military, especially when they are out on a crucial mission.

Chris Abraham, a Marine pilot, said he even had the chance of meeting people working on the ship that he had known before stateside. “I met Lt. Glenn, my former flight instructor, working on this ship. What a great surprise!” he exclaimed. For his wife, Carry Abraham, it was the first experience on a Navy ship. “Now I know what my husband does every time he goes away. I have seen their way of life on this ship and - big news - I didn’t get seasick...” she reported.

For Alan Berg, Director of the University of Maryland, “It is so impressive for a civilian like myself to get this close look of the complexity, technology that operates these things. It is reassuring. Now, I understand why it costs so much. I think that if every American taxpayer could get the chance to see how much dedication all these young sailors have to the defense of our nation, and how perfect the operation of such a ship is, they wouldn’t ever complain anymore about how their money is spent.”

Yoshikane Oka, Managing Director of Okinawa Marine Company Ltd., a local long-term contractor with the US Military, said that, from past experience, he believed the Belleau wood crew to be the best. “They gave very comfortable service to the Japanese guests. It’s a very large ship, and expensive to maintain, but I believe this ship does a lot of service to Japan and US mutual defense treaties. I am really satisfied with what I saw.”

The Belleau Wood is the third in a class of modern amphibious assault ships. According to a document distributed to guests during embarkation, it incorporates the best design features and capabilities of several warships. “It can embark, deploy, land and support elements of a Marine landing force in an assault by helicopters, harrier jets landing craft, amphibious vehicles, or by a combination of these methods using state-of-the-art equipment with expertly trained operators and technicians.”

In raw material alone, the Belleau Wood required enough steel to manufacture over 20,000 cars, aluminum sufficient to produce 130 million soft drink cans, over 1,000 miles of electric cable, and enough fuel onboard to operate a family car for some 125 million miles. The ship has the capability of creating enough fresh water each day to supply the needs of 6,000 people. It also has one of the largest hospitals afloat with 300 beds, 4 operating rooms and 3 dental facilities. Its Flight Deck can handle 10 helicopters simultaneously, as well as AV-8 Harrier jump-jet aircraft and OV-10 Bronco fixed-wing turboprop reconnaissance aircraft. The ship can carry several war vehicles, jeeps, trucks and tanks in its hangar.

The Belleau Wood is designed to operate as an independent, self-contained unit in peace and war time, maintaining what is referred to as “tactical integrity.” With its 40,000 tons full load capacity, it has served both the United States and the United Nations in places as far as the Golf, and more recently in East Timor, where its awesome presence to support Australian troops sent violent militia men into disarray. Because it is the only permanent, forward-deployed amphibious assault ship in the US Navy, the Belleau Wood is practically the backbone of US military readiness in this part of the world. As chief Mike Welding, Public Affairs Officer of the ship said, “When the President rings 911, it rings on the Belleau Wood.”

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