(LSD-28: dp. 11,525; 1. 510'; b. 84'; dr. 19'; s. 21 k.;
cpl. 304; trp. 300; a. 8 3"; cl. Thomaston)
Thomaston (LSD-28) was laid down on 3 March 1953 at Pascagoula, Miss., by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp., launched on 9 February 1954, sponsored by Mrs. Mathias B. Gardner; and commissioned on 17 September 1954, Capt. Marion F. Ramirez de Arellano in command.
Following shakedown in the Caribbean, Thomaston transited the Panama Canal and joined the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force. From July through October 1955, Thomaston participated in the Arctic Resupply Project, provisioning stations on the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line before taking part in cold weather landing exercises in the Aleutians in November 1955 and again in January and February 195B.
The landing ship's duties soon took her southward to the warmer climes of the Hawaiian Islands, where she conducted local operations and exercises in March and April. On hand in Santa Barbara, Calif., from 2 to 9 July, for the Semana Nautica Celebration, Thomaston returned to the Hawaiian Islands and participated in three landing exercises in the autumn before returning to the west coast to conduct exercises off the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., during the spring of 1957.
She subsequently deployed to the Western Pacific (WestPac) in 1959 and participated in exercises off Borneo and Korea in June and August of that year. Alternating between the west coast and WestPac, Thomaston participated in a busy schedule of operations and cruises into the 1960's. During the international tensions brought on by the United States' discovery of Russian missile sites in Cuba, Thomaston sailed via the Panama Canal to the Caribbean and operated with the Atlantic Fleet until tensions abated with the withdrawal of the missiles. She then returned to San Diego on 15 December 1962.
She commenced the year 1963 at her home port, San Diego, and conducted training exercises into February before serving as primary control ship off "Green" Beach, Del Mar, Calif., during Operation "Steel Gate" from 28 February to 8 March 1963. Thomaston departed the west coast on 26 March, bound for the Far East, and arrived via Pearl Harbor at Subic Bay on 20 April Serving with the Amphibious Force of the 7th Fleet; she participated in special operations in the South China Sea from 22 April to 5 May. A second special operation in the South China Sea-again with the Amphibious Ready Group, 7th Fleet-took place in late August and early September.
After operating in Okinawan waters, Thomaston departed Yokosuka, Japan, on 4 November, bound for the west coast of the United States. While en route three days later, the LSD received word of a merchantman in distress. Changing course, Thomaston found SS Barbara Fritchie in heavy seas, dead in the water, having lost a propeller and suffering rudder damage. Thomaston took her in tow and headed for Pearl Harbor, transferring the tow to Cree (ATF-84) on the 12th. The LSD's stop at Pearl Harbor was a brief one, though, as she arrived and departed for home on the same day, 15 November.
Making port at San Diego on 21 November, Thomaston operated locally and trained through the early fall of 1964, when she sailed for the Philippines on 26 October to commence another WestPac deployment. Arriving at Subic Bay on lff November, the LSD conducted special operations in the South China Sea, including a dredge lift from Saigon to Danang, South Vietnam, between 21 November and 16 December. Christmas of that year found Thomaston again at sea, on "special operations" in the South China Sea. She was present at the initial Marine landings at Danang and Chu Lai, South Vietnam. She remained deployed to WestPac until June of 1965, when she returned to San Diego to conduct routine local operations off the west coast.
Departing San Diego on 10 January 1966 for WestPac, Thomaston arrived in Vietnamese coastal waters on 5 February and immediately commenced operations at Chu Lai and Danang, serving as boat haven at the latter port. She returned to the United States in the spring and remained at San Diego from 9 April to 9 July 1966. The ship then headed back to the western Pacific and operated out of Subic Bay from 28 July through the end of the deployment. She participated in Operations "Deckhouse III" (phases one and two) and "Deckhouse IV" in August and September. In the former, Thomaston landed marines north of Vung Tau and served as primary control ship and boat haven during the subsequent operations. She then landed marines at a point just south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Vietnam. She thus continued in her familiar role as primary control ship and boat haven during "Deckhouse IV" and staged boat convoys carrying supplies nine miles up the Cua Vet River to Dong Ha.
Returning to Subic Bay, Thomaston later participated in Exercise "Mudpuppy II" which was designed to provide training in river operations for marines. Held on Mindoro in the Philippines, "Mudpuppy II" ended three days before Christmas; and Thomaston sailed for Vietnam.
She thus began the year 1967 as she had begun the previous year, in active combat operations against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army units along the coastline. Participating in "Deckhouse V" and "Deckhouse VI" into March, Thomaston's participation in the former operation began on 5 January 1967 when she dropped anchor off the mouth of the Song Co Chien River. She helped to launch the thrust of "Deckhouse V," aimed at the delta lowlands of Kien Hoa province, South Vietnam. The combined American and Vietnamese Marine Corps landings successfully challenged Viet Cong forces in this area. Relieved at Vung Tau by Point Defiance (LSD~1) on 6 March, Thomaston sailed for repairs at Subic Bay, en route home via Hong Kong, Okinawa, Yokosuka, and Pearl Harbor.
Following an extensive overhaul at San Diego from 28 June to 18 December 1967, Thomaston departed her home port on 21 February 1968 for her regular deployment to WestPac. After joining the Amphibious Ready Group off Vietnam in the I Corps zone, Thomaston commenced operations in support of marines of the Special Landing Forces (SLF) engaged ashore in the defense of Quang Tri province. She spent the month of March steaming in coastwise logistics runs between Danang, Camranh Bay, and the burgeoning Army supply base at Thon My Thuy, known colloquially as "Murder Beach."
During her operations at the latter port, Thomaston demonstrated to the Army the versatility of the Landing Ship Dock by serving as an effective repair ship with a built-in drydock. Many small craft and pontoon piers serving the supply base received hull and machinery work by the crew in the ship's capacious welldeck. During this deployment, Thomaston proved that the amphibious ship was a natural vehicle for interservice cooperation.
While operating off the coast of South Vietnam with the Amphibious Ready Group, Thomaston conducted two search and rescue operations. On the evening of 25 May, a CH - 6 helicopter, loaded with mail, passengers, and baggage, lost power in the vicinity of Valley Forge (LPH-8) and crashed. The helicopter remained afloat while those on board jettisoned all excess weight. It gradually sank, but fortunately not before all men had safely left the craft. Within a mile of the accident Thomaston dispatched two boats to the scene and recovered not only four of the passengers and crew of the CH-46 (the remainder were picked up by helicopter) but the crew from one of Valley Forge's boats which had capsized upon launching. Later, on 2 June and again while in the vicinity of Valley Forge, Thomaston picked up men from the carrier who had jumped overboard to escape flames from a flight deck fire.
Thomaston next participated in "Badger Catch III," the withdrawal of the Special Landing Force from the Cua Vet River area bordering on the extreme southern edge of the DMZ. Subsequently, Thomaston and her embarked SLF participated in a swift succession of operations against Communist ground forces. Operation "Swift Sabre" plunged into Viet Cong contested areas of the western shore of Danang harbor on 8 June 1968. Following Exercise "Hilltop XX" in Subic Bay, Thomaston participated in "Eager Yankee" which landed elements of the SLF in Quang Tri province near Cua Tu Hien on 9 July before engaging, 13 days later, in "Swift Play" in the coastal area south of Danang. These operations resulted in the capture of significant numbers of weapons and stores and the destruction of operating bases and installations from which the enemy had launched attacks against other "friendly forces." During "Swift Play," Thomaston came under shore battery fire for a brief time.
For the next five years, Thomaston actively supported the war effort in Vietnam, conducted troop and cargo lifts, and participated in amphibious operations. The tide of war, however, was running against the South Vietnamese; and, by the spring of 1975, concentrated efforts on the part of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops put pressure on the crumbling South Vietnamese government.
The end for South Vietnam came during Thomaston's 15th WestPac deployment. The beginning of the year 1975 found the landing ship at Subic Bay, undergoing a needed availability. She departed Subic Bay on 2 February, bound for Singapore where she stayed until the 13th. As a member of Task Group (TG) 76.4 Thomaston later returned to port at Subic Bay on the 25th. Her anticipated upkeep period, however, was cut short when the ship was directed to return to sea with TG 76.4. On 2 March, Thomaston departed Subic Bay to execute Operation "Eagle Pull " which evacuated Americans and designated Cambodian citizens from the Cambodian capital city of Pnomh Penh. The civilians were to be picked up by helicopters and ferried to the ships offshore.
She remained in readiness until the evening of 5 April, when Thomaston was ordered to Phu Quoc Island to assist Vietnamese nationals evacuated from Danang. She transferred food and medical supplies via her LCU's and LCM-8 assault craft to Vietnamese refugees quartered on Military Sealift Command (MSC) vessels.
TG 76.4 executed "Eagle Pull" on 11 April, and Thomaston took part as a plane guard on station to the south. Upon the successful completion of the operation, designated units of the group proceeded to Sattahip, Thailand, to debark civilians airlifted from Cambodia. Meanwhile, Thomaston sailed for the Philippines, arriving at Subic Bay on the morning of 17 April, but her much deserved in-port period was again abbreviated by operational necessity. Underway once more at 2330 on the 18th, Thomaston sailed for Vietnamese waters to take part in the Gotterdammerung of South Vietnam-the evacuation of the besieged capital, Saigon.
On 29 April, Operation "Frequent Wind" commenced at 1500. During the next nine hours Thosnaston received 811 Vietnamese, American, and other refugees. During this operation-for which the ship received the Meritorious Unit Commendation-Thomaston received evacuees via helicopter, landing "choppers!' as large as CH-46's on her flight deck aft. All Vietnamese citizens were to be processed and placed aboard MSC ships
American citizens would be retained on board for transportation to the Philippines. Although limited by space all individuals were provided with food, clothing, an] medical attention. Makeshift shelters, "tents" made from marines' blankets, were set up on board.
Returning to Subic Bay on 3 May, Thomaston immediately commenced preparations for her homeward voyage. Civilians embarked during "Frequent Wind" were debarked at Subic Bay. The ship then headed on for the west coast of the United States, via Buckner Bay, Okinawa; and Pearl Harbor; and arrived at San Diego on 6 June 1975.
Thomaston subsequently operated with the Pacific Fleet in 1976, conducting training and local operations in waters off Okinawa, Japan, Korea, and Hawaii, before returning to San Diego at the close of the year.
Following a material inspection by the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey in January 1977, Thomaston commenced preparations for her forthcoming overhaul. On 1 June, she entered Todd Shipyard, Seattle, Wash., for the most extensive overhaul conducted on an amphibious ship to that time. Lasting 18 months and costing nearly $30 million, the overhaul was completed on 7 December 1978. Thomaston returned to her home port of San Diego on 14 December and remained there into 1979.
Thomaston received 11 battle stars, one Navy Unit Commendation, and two Meritorious Unit Commendations for Vietnam service.