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U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC)

USS Wasp plank owners tour ship they brought to life

by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Speer, USS Wasp (LHD 1) Public Affairs
20 September 2022

Retired Capt. Keith Larson stands next to the bell aboard USS Wasp
220917-N-CJ603-1150 NORFOLK (Sept. 17, 2022) - Retired Captain Keith Larson, the first executive officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), poses with the original bell from Wasp (CV 7), Sept. 17, 2022. CV 7 went down during World War II in the Guadalcanal, and the bell is the only surviving part of the lost ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Speer)
Retired Capt. Keith Larson stands next to the bell aboard USS Wasp
220917-N-CJ603-1150
220917-N-CJ603-1150 NORFOLK (Sept. 17, 2022) - Retired Captain Keith Larson, the first executive officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), poses with the original bell from Wasp (CV 7), Sept. 17, 2022. CV 7 went down during World War II in the Guadalcanal, and the bell is the only surviving part of the lost ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Speer)
Photo By: MC3 Amber Speer
VIRIN: 220917-N-CJ603-1150

Boom. Boom. Boom. The sound of the torpedoes striking the hull of the ship would echo in their minds. As the ship went down, and the Sailors jumped into the water of the Guadalcanal, the eighth USS Wasp (CV 7) was lost to the ocean.

 For years to come, those blasts would be the last thing the swim-away Sailors would have to remember their ship, until the tenth USS Wasp (LHD 1) was commissioned in 1987, and the bell with their two-time predecessor’s name on it was brought to the quarterdeck, the resounding sound bringing the retired CV 7 Sailors 46 years back in time.

A call from a Navy historian excited the commissioning crew of LHD 1, who wanted to memorialize pieces from CV 18, the ninth Wasp. They were told there was a bell that was believed to have belonged to CV 18, but when it was brought onboard, the date told them otherwise.

CV 18 wasn’t commissioned until 1943, and they had received a bell that was dated in 1940, said retired Captain Keith Larson, the first executive officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). The question was raised, and the answer was given: this was the last surviving piece of USS Wasp (CV 7).

After 32 years away from Wasp (LHD 1), Larson returned with other plank owners to take a walk down memory lane. From seaman to chief petty officer, retired Sailors walked the decks of Wasp once again. With the guidance of the current crew, they toured the ship that commissioned so long ago.

After a long period in a dry-dock selected restricted availability, Wasp and the crew are nearly sea-worthy again. The opportunity to meet some of the plank owners was an inspiration to Sailors and a motivator to keep working toward mission readiness.

“It was a reminder of how much the Navy impacts your life from the good experiences to the bad,” Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Sara Sanders said. “I was grateful and fortunate enough to tour a married couple. Seeing his face light up as he told his wife all the memories and flashbacks of his time in the Navy was incredible. Although we served during two different time periods, we shared the same bond of being a Wasp Sailor. It taught me more than anything that although times spent in the Navy can be challenging, the sense of pride looking back on everything sets you apart from most everyone around you.”

Retired Rear Admiral Leonard Picotte and retired Captain Keith Larson pose for a photo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp
NORFOLK (Sept. 17, 2022) - Retired Rear Admiral Leonard Picotte and retired Captain Keith Larson pose for a photo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), Sept. 17, 2022. The original crew from Wasp’s commissioning in 1989 visited the ship for a reunion in Norfolk, VA. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Speer)
Retired Rear Admiral Leonard Picotte and retired Captain Keith Larson pose for a photo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp
220917-N-CJ603-1155
NORFOLK (Sept. 17, 2022) - Retired Rear Admiral Leonard Picotte and retired Captain Keith Larson pose for a photo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), Sept. 17, 2022. The original crew from Wasp’s commissioning in 1989 visited the ship for a reunion in Norfolk, VA. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Speer)
Photo By: MC3 Amber Speer
VIRIN: 220917-N-CJ603-1155

No matter when they joined, every Sailor becomes part of something bigger than themselves. The efforts they make during their Navy career continue to affect those that follow in their footsteps forever. Rate and rank become less of a focus when Sailors are able to understand the impact their choices make on the world around them. While being assigned to any specific ship is a mere luck of the draw, the difference a Sailor makes at their command is up to their own ambition.

“You can always be better. You always can do more—faster—quicker,” said retired Rear Admiral Leonard Picotte, commanding officer of Wasp at commissioning. “That’s what you do in our ship, in our Navy—you ought to be doing that in your life. Strive to be better. Continue to strive for excellence.”

During his time in the Navy, Picotte served on 10 ships and commanded four. From an enlisted radarman to a rear admiral, he invested himself in the Navy, understanding the diligence and dedication it took to be part of the best fleet in the world.

As times change, so has the Navy and so has Wasp. The crew has cycled through thousands of Sailors, and the ship has been grinded to bare metal just to be built back up better than before. Despite all of the changes, the plank owners could still find their nostalgia and love for the Navy in the hull and deck of the ship.

“Wasp is part of us,” reminisced Picotte. “A ship—these are parts, pieces and things—what makes a ship is the crew, and that’s what I remember.”

The breath of a Sailor breathes life into a ship. The connection between two individuals who have shed sweat, blood and tears for a ship is a bond that could never be broken. The Navy is a proud organization: a fighting organization. As years press on, the one thing that will never change is the heart of the institution, for the heartbeat is made up of the Sailors.

From the first ever Wasp, commissioned in 1775, to the carrier lost in Guadalcanal, in 1942, to the amphib standing tall and proud in Norfolk Naval Station today, the Sailors of Wasps are connected by a name that will forever represent what it means to fight—what it means to ring a bell and answer the call of duty.

“First you set the watch,” Larson said. “The next thing you do is man the ship, and we manned the ship. The third thing is we brought it to life, and the captain says, “Bring the ship to life, and mark the marines,” and we rang the bell eight times. That started the ship’s life, and it connects us directly to that bell.”


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