History of The USS Okanogan (APA-220)
August 28, 1999
Okanogan (APA-220), built under Maritime Administration contract by Permanente Metals Corp., Richmond, Calif., was launched 26 October 1944, sponsored by Mrs. E. J. Husted, and acquired and commissioned 3 December 1944, Comdr. Frederick Fender, USNR, in command
Okanogan’s primary mission as an attack transport is to carry and disembark with her own landing craft, a full battalion of troops, and to evacuate troops, casualties, and prisoners of war from the objective. In line with this, she must provide all facilities for the troops embarked; messing, berthing, medical and dental care, and recreational facilities. Her first mission began 16 February 1945, when she sailed from San Francisco bound for Hawaii with the staff of Transport Division 57, along with a number of Navy, Marine, and civilian passengers.
At Pearl Harbor Okanogan embarked some 740 Army assault troops, reinforcements for Okinawa, where she arrived 17 April. After five days off the fiercely embattled island, “where the fleet had come to stay,” she sailed for Saipan, with 160 battle casualties. At Saipan 1,000 veterans embarked for San Francisco which she reached 1 June.
Okanogan voyaged across the Pacific and between the combat areas twice more as the war closed. Only brief periods in West Coast ports broke her heavy schedule, brought on by the urgent need to redeploy troops for occupation duties and to return combat veterans to the United States. She completed a voyage at San Francisco 9 January 1946, and a month later sailed for Norfolk, Va., her home port for operations with the Atlantic Fleet for the next four years. As the Navy and Marines sharpened the techniques of warfare born in wartime, Okanogan made reserve training cruises and took part in maneuvers and exercises along the eastern seaboard, in the Caribbean, and, in the fall of 1949, in the Hawaiian Islands.
Okanogan rejoined the Pacific Fleet upon the outbreak of the Korean War, and in August 1950 loaded part of the 1st Marine Division at San Diego for Japan. These troops had been urgently requested by General Douglas MacArthur for a counter-offensive against North Korean aggression. Okanogan landed the men at Inchon 15 September in an amphibious assault of incredible difficulty. The skill with which the operation was executed won acclaim from General MacArthur, who exclaimed “…the Navy and Marine Corps have never shown brighter …”. Okanogan landed men of the same division in the assault on Wonsan 26 October.
Okanogan evacuated three thousand refugees from Chinampo in December; one more was born at sea and later named for the ship by its grateful parents. In January 1951, Okanogan brought more troops to Inchon, and in April served as flagship in demonstration landings at Kojo.
Returning to San Diego in May 1951, Okanogan trained indefatigably for future combat assignments. In September and October she carried men of the Air Force to Yokohama, and sailed again for Japan in March 1952, carrying Naval Beach Group One. She transported the staff of Landing Ship Flotilla One to Kojedo, Korea, and carried out amphibious exercises off Japan, before returning to Long Beach in December.
For the next eight years, Okanogan continued a tight program of training both for herself and for Marines when she was not deployed to the Far East. Such six to seven-month cruises were made in 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1959. An experience of her 1958 cruise illustrates the ability of the Navy to make a world-wide response to any crisis. When the 6th Fleet landed Marines in Lebanon in July, Okanogan, half a world away, at once proceeded to Okinawa, ready to load more marines and carry them to the Mediterranean should they be needed.
Okanogan left Long Beach once more 16 February 1960, and after participating in a large scale exercise with Marines at Taiwan, sailed for Southeast Asia. Her first mission was the delivery of ten landing craft to the Laotian government; her second, the loading of Thai and Vietnamese art treasures for a planned tour of the United States. She returned to Long Beach 25 July.
In 1962, and 1963-4, Okanogan again cruised with the 7th Fleet in the Western Pacific and in between was called to the Caribbean by the Dominican crisis. When she once again left Long Beach 19 April 1965, it was for direct participation in the Viet Nam War. Through May and June she carried men and ammunition between Okinawa and Da Nang, Chu Lai, and Qui Nhon; from July to November, she served as station ship at Da Nang, providing the Navy Support Activity there with berthing and messing facilities for 700 to 900 persons. Her boats operated 18 to 20 hours a day in this essential support for build-up of one of the major bases for the Allied effort to repel Communist aggression.
Okanogan returned to Long Beach 17 December, and in June and July 1966 again voyaged to South Viet Nam, carrying Marine communications technicians. On 17 November 1966, she returned to Da Nang as station ship, making her unique contribution to the cause of freedom in South Viet Nam. As a member of Amphibious Force Pacific Okanogan continued her mission in transporting, training and supporting the fleet into 1968.
On 24 June 1968, the first personnel from River Assault Squadron 15 completed training and reported in-country Vietnam for duty. There were no boats available. From then until 7 August 1968, the squadron was stationed in Vung Tau, Republic of Vietnam aboard the USS Bexar, the USS Okanogan, and the USS Indra.
Okanogan received: (1) Battle Star for World War II service, (6) for Korean War service, Vietnam Service Medal with (4) multiple Battle Stars, RVN Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, and the RVN Campaign Medal with 60’s device.