The Navy's civilian leader has announced that one of the future America-class amphibious assault ships will be named USS Fallujah -- an honor that has been quietly discussed in Navy circles for years.
"The future USS Fallujah will commemorate the First and Second Battles of Fallujah, American-led offensives during the Iraq War," Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced Tuesday in a press release. He noted that the name "follows the tradition of naming amphibious assault ships after the U.S. Marine Corps' battles.”
The pair of battles, fought in the spring and winter of 2004, are considered the bloodiest engagements of the Iraq War, with more than 100 coalition forces killed and over 600 wounded. The battle also led to the emergence of heroes like Maj. Douglas Zembiec, who would become known as "The Lion of Fallujah," and Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who absorbed a grenade blast with his body, saving nearby Marines.
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Peralta would be honored with a posthumous Navy Cross and a destroyer named in his honor.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, said that the battle "is, and will remain, imprinted in the minds of all Marines and serves as a reminder to our Nation, and its foes, why our Marines call themselves the world's finest" in the Navy's statement.
Berger's wife, Donna, was named as the ship's sponsor -- an honorary position that affords her the opportunity to be present at all major construction milestones for the ship and, according to the Navy, "will represent a lifelong relationship with the ship and crew."
The ship will be the ninth "landing helicopter assault," or LHA, ship to be built. Though the first ship of the class went into service in 1976, the Navy modernized and changed the design with the USS America, LHA-6, which was commissioned in 2014.
The push to name a ship for the now-iconic battle goes back years. In 2011, a Twitter account was created with the username "USS_Fallujah." The account's biography says it belongs to "a group dedicated to naming LHA-9 for the Marines who fought there, [and] gripe about DoD ship naming policy." One of the account's first tweets, made in November 2011, was to note that "7 years ago the hardest fight of OIF was raging in Fallujah" and call for a LHA to be named in their honor.
In 2012, a retired Navy officer and respected military blogger who goes by the pseudonym CDR Salamander, proposed a USS Fallujah as well.
By 2016, other retired Navy officers had joined the chorus of supporters clamoring for such an honor. Military.com reported that Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and former director of naval history for the service, submitted Fallujah as a ship name twice -- including for the 7th LHA, which would ultimately be christened USS Tripoli.
Hendrix told Military.com in a phone call Wednesday that, in the early 2010s, "There was some question, since the wars were still waging, whether we ought to be naming ships after battles in campaigns that were still ongoing.
"But, obviously, that time has passed ... and it's great to see this most immediate, past generation of Marines be honored for their sacrifices in the Wars on Terror."
While the choice has been a long time coming, Hendrix noted that "it's been very clear from the beginning that this battle was the battle that would need to be remembered."
Huntington Ingalls Industries announced in October 2022 that it had won a $2.4 billion contract to build the future LHA-9, adding that construction was scheduled to begin in December 2022. The company is also building Fallujah's predecessor, the future USS Bougainville, or LHA-8.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
Related: 11 Years After the Battles, Some Say It's Time for a USS Fallujah