PENSACOLA, Fla. — The USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship named in honor of the sailors and Marines who fought in one of World War II's bloodiest battles, was commissioned Saturday at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Hundreds of veterans who survived the 1945 battle, which claimed some 6,800 American lives, watched in pouring rain as a crew of about 1,000 men and women in dress white uniforms boarded the gray ship.
"The veterans that are left, it tells them that there's still patriotism in this country," Marine Corps veteran Darol "Lefty" Lee said. "It's just an awe-inspiring thing."
Lee, 77, of Winona, Minn., was among some 19,000 American sailors and Marines wounded during the 36-day battle for the Pacific island.
Also at the commissioning was Jacklyn "Jack" Lucas, 73, of Hattiesburg, Miss., who was 17 when he used his body to shield other Marines from an exploding hand grenade.
Lucas was among 27 sailors and Marines who won the Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima, the most of any World War II operation. He is one of three still living.
The battle, which also took about 19,000 Japanese lives, produced one of the war's most enduring images, the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal that shows five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi.
The USS Iwo Jima is similar in size and appearance to a World War II aircraft carrier, and is the second Navy vessel named for the battle. It will be based at Norfolk, Va.