By Daniel Garas, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division
Since its creation in 1775, the United States Marines Corps has created its own unique history and culture that has garnered a world-wide reputation for the service as an elite fighting force. The Navy and Marine Corps share similar cultures, customs and traditions, and have formed a winning team that can project power from the sea that is unrivaled anywhere else around the globe. But for all their similarities, the two branches have vastly different roles in warfare. While the Navy fights on the sea and concentrates on naval supremacy, Marines act as naval infantry, capable of fighting both at sea and on shore, and specialize in amphibious warfare.
With its own rich history and list of colorful characters, it should come as no surprise there are Navy vessels named for some famous U.S. Marines and Marine Corps battles. The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships contains numerous examples of Navy ships named for Marines and their achievements.
United States ship naming conventions for the U.S. Navy were formally established by Congressional action since at least 1862. But while many may imagine there is strict protocol for ship naming, the procedures and practices are as much, if not more, products of evolution and tradition rather than legislation.
Fittingly, famous Marine Corps battles are sometimes used to name amphibious assault ships. Ships of this class, (LPH, LHA, and LHD) are designed to land and support ground forces on enemy territory by amphibious assault. Ships of the Tarawa class commemorate now famous battles like Saipan, Peleliu Belleau Wood and Nassau Meanwhile ships of the Iwo Jima class designed and dedicated as helicopter carriers, carry ship names like Okinawa, Guadalcanal Guam, Tripoli, New Orleans and Inchon.
Destroyers are known as fast, maneuverable warships, with long-endurance capabilities, and are utilized for both defensive and offensive capabilities due to their firepower and the heavy punch they pack. These ships are named in honor of heroes from the naval services and many are named after Marines. Destroyers named for Marines range across different classes of destroyers. From USS Butler (DD 636), a Gleaves-class destroyer, to USS Daly (DD 519) a Fletch-class destroyer, to USS Cole (DDG 67) and USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109)both Arleigh Burke-class Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers.
Frigates (FFG) are also traditionally named after Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard heroes. Much like the Marines, who are often expect to do more with less, Frigates too were used as workhorses for the Navy. Designed to replace converted World War II cruisers, they were typically less expensive to build and maintain than destroyers and are primarily used to defend aircraft carriers against anti-ship cruise missiles. Ships like USS Lewis B. Puller (FFG 23), and USS Nicholas (FFG 47) are Frigates named after legendary Marines.
Even the Navy’s elite submarine force has a ship named for a former Marine. Traditionally Virginia-class submarines are named after states, but John Warner (SSN-785) USS John Warner (SSN 785) is named after the Marine turned U.S. Senator. The Warner also has the distinction of being one of a handful of Navy vessels to be named after a living person.
Finally, the four newest expeditionary transfer dock ships of the Navy take their namesake from Marines as well. USNS Montford Point (T-ESD 1), USNS John Glenn (T-ESD 2), Lewis B. Puller II (ESB-3) and the Hershel Williams (T-ESB-4)are designed to support low-intensity missions, much like the Corps itself.
Since its inception the United States Marine Corps has teamed with the Navy to create a unique expeditionary force whose mission remains essential to the defense of the U.S. to this day. As long as Marines continue to go into harm’s way there will undoubtedly be more ships named after them and their impressive feats.
For more information visit the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website here.