April 15 (UPI) -- The keel was laid for the future USS Richard M. McCool, Jr., an amphibious transport dock ship, at a ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Industries Ingalls' Shipbuilding Division in Pascagoula, Miss.
Ship sponsors Shana McCool and Kate Oja, the granddaughters of Capt. Richard M. McCool Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient in 1945, were on hand for the ceremony Friday for the Navy's 13th San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ship, known as LPD 29.
"We are honored to have Ms. McCool and Ms. Oja with us today to recognize this major ship event," said Capt. Brian Metcalf, LPD 17 class program manager for Program Executive Office Ships. "The San Antonio class has proven essential to expeditionary warfighters, and we are excited to bring the 13th and final ship of the Flight I configuration to the fleet."
McCool sustained shrapnel wounds and painful burns as he he led efforts to battle a blazing fire on his ship and rescue injured sailors after it was was attacked by kamikaze aircraft in the Battle of Okinawa. He died in 2008.
"My grandfather was very humble and one of the most caring men you could ever hope to meet," Shana McCool said during the ceremony. "He never showed off. When asked about the war, he just said, 'I did my job, and I did what any other person would do.' My cousins and I grew up seeing pictures on the wall of the Medal of Honor from President Truman, pictures of his ship, but to us he was always just grandpa."
The 684-foot-long, 105-foot-wide ships embark and land Marines, their equipment and supplies. Helicopters or vertical takeoff and landing aircraft such as the MV-22 Osprey are on board.
The ships conduct amphibious and expeditionary missions, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. They include a crew of 380 sailors, including 29 officers.
The McCool and the John P. Murtha are the only ships in the class not named after cities or counties.
Fabrication for the McCool began July 30, 2018, and it is scheduled to be delivered in 2023.
Ingalls has delivered 11 San Antonio-class ships to the Navy, including most recently the USS Portland in April 2018. The San Antonio, which was built by Avondale in Mississippi, was the first ship of the class, commissioned in 2006.
Another San Antonio-class ship, the Fort Lauderdale, will launch in 2020 and is scheduled to be delivered in 2021.
The McCool and Fort Lauderdale will serve as transition ships to LPD 30, the first ship of the Flight II. LPD 17 Flight II ships will replace the Navy's aging LSD 41/49 class ships.
In March, Ingalls received a $1.47 billion contract from the U.S. Navy for the detail design and construction of the first Flight II LPD, which is is scheduled for 2020.