In February 1981, the U. S. Navy awarded Lockheed Shipbuilding Company of Seattle, Washington, a contract to construct LSD 41, first of a new Dock Landing Ship class to replace the aging Thomaston-class LSDs. At 4 August 1981 keel-laying ceremony, the Honorable John F. Lehman, Secretary of the Navy, affixed his signature to the LSD 41 keel; the first keel of an amphibious assault ship lain in more than five years.
Although the first ship to carry the name Whidbey Island, there was at one time a ship on Navy rolls named USS Whidbey (AG-141), a small transport purchased from the U. S. Army and servicing U. S. Trust Territories in the late 1940s.
Whidbey Island, the first ship in a class designed specifically to interface with the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), assisted in the operational and developmental testing of the amphibious assault craft from July to September 1985 and again in May and July 1986.
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