USS El Paso (LKA-117)

USS El Paso (AKA-117/LKA-117) is a Charleston class amphibious cargo ship named after the city of El Paso, Texas. She served as a commissioned ship for 24 years and 3 months.

USS El Paso (LKA-117) after the addition of Phalanx CIWS
United States
Name: USS El Paso
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co.
Laid down: 22 October 1968
Launched: 17 May 1969
Commissioned: 17 January 1970
Decommissioned: 21 April 1994
Struck: 31 August 2015
Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia
Nickname(s): El Barco Magnifico
Status: Awaiting disposal
General characteristics
Class and type: Charleston-class amphibious cargo ship
  • 8,368 tons (deadweight)
  • 18,600 tons (full load)
Length: 575 ft 6 in (175.41 m)
Beam: 82 ft (25 m)
Draft: 25 ft 5 in (7.75 m)
Boats & landing
craft carried:
9 × landing craft
Complement: 36 officers, 375 men
Armament: 4 × twin 3"/50 caliber guns
Service record

She was laid down as AKA-117 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, VA on 22 October 1968, and redesignated LKA-117 on 1 January 1969. She was launched on 17 May 1969, and commissioned on 17 January 1970.

El Paso was not involved in the Vietnam War.

In 1993 El Paso deployed to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, and participated in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.

She was decommissioned on 21 April 1994. She is berthed at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, PA.

The ship earned several awards and campaign ribbons for her service.

Unofficial ship's motto (1977–1982): "You Call, We Haul – N-o-o-o Problem!" (1983) "El Barco Magnifico," (1984–85) "Professional and Proud of It." Ship's official nickname (1975–86): "El Barco Magnifico."

The ship deployed to Beirut Lebanon on 11 May 1983 in support of United States Marines and multinational peacekeeping forces ashore. Captain Andrew J. Conklin commanding. LCDR then CDR (Select) John M. Carter was the ship's executive officer during this deployment and BMCM(SW) James Dutcher served as Command Master Chief. CDR Carter was later promoted to Captain (O-6) and served as a commanding officer at sea aboard an amphib homeported in Norfolk.

Once on station, the ship remained at anchor, off the coast of Beirut (approximately one mile), for seven (7) months during this deployment with only two short liberty port visits. The first was Catania, Sicily, the other Antalya, Turkey. Both port visits were of short duration (three days). For recreation while at anchor, the crew participated in "FISHEX" events. These usually occurred during Sunday's "Holiday Routine." A Mike-8 boat would be lowered into the water, numerous sailors would board the vessel which contained several pre-loaded 50-gallon drums filled with ice and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. A typical FISHEX would last several hours. Rarely was any fishing accomplished during these excursions. On weekends, Marines ashore brought laundry aboard, obtained supplies and considered the food, air conditioning and peacefulness aboard El Paso a welcome relief from duty ashore at the Beirut International Airport.

While on station in Beirut, the ship remained at anchor during the day for the first three months of the deployment, but at night the ship would weigh anchor and proceed to an “operations box” location, about five miles off the coast. Once the Israeli military pulled out of Beirut in August, the military situation escalated among the Christian, Druze and Lebanese armies. During this timeframe, the ship would rarely anchor due to safety concerns. Therefore, the ship would patrol approximately one nautical mile offshore, moving up and down the coast from the Beirut International Airport north to the port of Beirut and back, proceeding outbound to the designated operations box after sunset.

The food aboard ship was second-to-none and El Paso was widely recognized in the area of operation as an exceptional place to eat. Likewise, Sailors went ashore to relax and play volleyball with the Marines, drink Jack Daniels whiskey and enjoy company with them. Later in the deployment, the ship's company assisted in the evacuation of the killed and injured following the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks on 23 October 1983. Just prior-to the explosion that morning, a small fire erupted in El Paso's crew galley. As the fire party did their work, the crew was mustered on the flight deck. The fire party contained the small fire. During the muster, the massive explosion occurred at the Marine barracks and the large plume of smoke that followed could be clearly seen by the entire crew from the ship's flight deck. The ship immediately went to General Quarters for the duration of the casualty ashore.

The ship had a closed circuit television station located directly across from the ship's library. During Beirut operations and while underway, broadcast programming was provided to the crew by the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) Los Angeles on video cassettes which were transported from ship-to-ship in the "circuit." The programming was enhanced with nightly newscasts read by the ship's journalist, using a library of AP slides that regularly came by mail. Copy for the newscasts was obtained from the Associated Press wire service daily, which fed to radio central. Copy was "ripped and read" every evening at 6 p.m., prior to the airing of the usual fare of 80's programming (Magnum P.I., Newhart, Second City Television, etc.). Broadcast hours were 1600–2200 (taps) nightly.

In 1984, the ship participated in "Teamwork '84," deploying on 14 February. The ship onloaded Marines 16–18 Feb. in Wilmington, N.C. then transited to Malangen Fjord, Norway, in support of a multinational amphibious operation. Excellent liberty ports followed in Trondheim (Norway), Rotterdam (Holland) and Portsmouth (England). Captain Carl V. Lind, an S-2 (later S-3) Naval Aviator, commanding. Under Captain Lind's command, both the ship’s navigator and administration officer are credited for convincing Lind to change the breakaway song from "El Paso" by Marty Robbins to the more upbeat "The Big Country," the opening theme from the 1958 American Technicolor epic Western film of the same name.

Roy Cash, nephew of singer Johnny Cash and father of Miss America 1987 winner Kellye Cash, served as her captain from August 1985 to March 1987.[1]

Known "Breakaway Songs" - "El Paso", by Marty Robbins and Jerome Moross' "The Big Country."

Reference list

  1. "Roy Cash Biography" (PDF). Early and Pioneer Naval Aviators Association. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
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