The US Navy’s new floating base for Marines and Navy SEALs is named for a Vietnam war hero

The US Navy’s new floating base for Marines and Navy SEALs is named for a Vietnam war hero
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USS John L. Canley in San Diego Harbor.
USS John L. Canley in San Diego Harbor.

  • USS John L. Canley joined the active fleet as the US Navy’s newest warship, a floating sea base.
  • The Canley is the Navy’s sixth expeditionary mobile base (ESB).
  • The first of its name, the warship honors the Vietnam war hero, the late Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley.

The US Navy commissioned a new warship earlier this month, a massive floating sea base named after a Vietnam war hero.

The first of its name
Donald Trump presents the Medal of Honor to US Marine Corps retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley
Donald Trump presents the Medal of Honor to US Marine Corps retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley.

Born in Caledonia, Arkansas, in December 1937, John Canley went on to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1953.

In his nearly 30 years in service, Canley was deployed on three combat tours to the Vietnam War, serving as a rifle platoon leader, company gunnery sergeant, and company first sergeant before retiring as a sergeant major in 1981.

In 2018, Canley was awarded the nation’s highest military honor for his actions during the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam in 1968, when he carried more than 20 wounded Marines to safety while under enemy fire. He also took command for three days of Alpha Company, 1st battalion, 1st Marines after his company commander was wounded.

He became the first Black Marine to receive a Medal of Honor while still living.

Honoring the ship’s namesake
The crew of the expeditionary mobile base USS John L. Canley held a memorial service to honor the ship's namesake
The crew of the Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary mobile base USS John L. Canley held a memorial service to honor the ship’s namesake, Sgt. Maj. Canley.

Canley died on May 11, 2022, in Bend, Oregon, of complications related to prostate cancer. He was 84.

He was honored by the ship’s crewmembers in a memorial service and buried with full military honors at the Arlington National Cemetary.

“The actions in the face of danger Sgt. Maj. Canley took are incredible and remarkable,” Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Troy Black said in 2022. “Sgt. Maj. Canley was a leader and a warfighter who undoubtedly contributed to the battles won in Vietnam.”

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“His first priority was and has always been his Marines — a true example of Semper Fidelis,” Black added. “I’m saddened by the loss of such a great Marine, yet I’m grateful for the legacy he established for generations of warriors.”

Joining the active fleet
US Marines fire a 21-gun salute during the expeditionary sea base USS John L. Canley commissioning ceremony
US Marines fire a 21-gun salute during the expeditionary sea base USS John L. Canley commissioning ceremony at Naval Base Coronado, California

USS John L. Canley joined the active fleet in a commissioning ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California, on February 17.

The third largest flight deck of the US Navy
USS John L. Canley in San Diego Harbor in front of the city skyline.
USS John L. Canley in San Diego Harbor in front of the city skyline.

Canley’s legacy lives on in the Navy’s newest expeditionary sea base, the first of its name and the sixth ESB to join the Navy’s active fleet.

The Lewis B. Puller-class warship acts as a highly flexible mobile staging area to support military operations at sea, including the Marine Corps, special operations forces like the Navy SEALs, and other embarked units. It can also serve as a mothership for unmanned aerial systems.

It is designed to include aviation facilities, equipment staging support, and command-and-control assets.

With a length of 785 feet, it also has the Navy’s third-largest flight deck. The diesel-electric vessel has four large rotary-wing landing spots that can support nearly every helicopter within the joint forces: MH-53E Sea Dragons, MV-22 Ospreys, CH-47 Chinooks, CH-46 Sea Knight, AH-1 Cobras, and AH-64 Apaches.

Fully loaded, the Canley has a displacement of 90,000 tons and can travel at 15 knots with a range of 9,500 nautical miles.

Supporting a variety of operations
Expeditionary Sea Base USS John L. Canley at Naval Air Station North Island, where the ship was commissioned.
Expeditionary Sea Base USS John L. Canley at Naval Air Station North Island, where the ship was commissioned.

General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company built the mobile sea platform. David Carver, President of General Dynamics NASSCO, noted the “remarkable capabilities” of the Canley.

“Canley has substantial residual space, weight, and power to accommodate a wide range of current and future, manned and unmanned, surface, aerial, and undersea systems across multiple warfighting functions,” Carver said. “This is a massive, capable, flexible warship that gives fleet commanders decision space they need throughout their operating theaters.”

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The ship can accommodate MK-105 mine sleds, rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) used by SEALs and Marines, and twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The ship can also carry high-speed interceptor patrol boats and has weapon mounts and stowage space for weapons and ammunition.

A look inside the Canley
Sailors aboard the expeditionary sea base USS John L. Canley
Sailors assigned to the expeditionary sea base USS John L. Canley participate in a reenlistment ceremony following the ship’s commissioning.

Xavier Vavasseur, chief editor of Naval News, toured the Canley with Capt. Thomas Mays, the commanding officer of the ESB.

They walked through the ship’s parking-garage-like structure, where the crew could store boats and vehicles.

“One of our primary mission sets is US Marine Corps aviation mine-sweeping,” Mays told Naval News. “The MH-53 can drop sleds in the water, and then sweep a minefield free to enable an amphibious assault if needed.”

Flying low over the water, the powerful MH-53 tows the sled through the minefield to trigger any lurking mines so ships can later pass through.

Operating with the Navy’s Forward Deployed Naval Force
Ship's crew members of USS John L. Canley man the ship
Ship’s crew members of USS John L. Canley man the ship during the ship’s commissioning ceremony at Naval Station North Island, California.

Mays said the ship’s crew will undergo a few more months of certification and training before likely joining the USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) in the Seventh Fleet operating area in the Western Pacific.

Christened by Canley’s daughter
Patricia Sargent, the ship sponsor, christens Military Sealift Command's newest ship, expeditionary sea base USS John L. Canley.
Patricia Sargent, the ship sponsor, christens Military Sealift Command’s newest ship, expeditionary sea base USS John L. Canley.

A few weeks after his death, Canley’s daughter and the ship’s sponsor, Patricia Sargent, christened the ship in a time-honored tradition, breaking a bottle of sparkling wine across the ship’s bow in a ceremony in June 2022.

She delivered an address during the ship’s commissioning in February 2023, highlighting her father’s heroism and other Marines in the Vietnam War.

“To be able to give the order to bring this ship to life, I need to give you some information in regards to my father,” Sargent said. “My father understood that greatness is not achieved by the individual; it is achieved by the courageous acts of the many. The Marines of Alpha Company 1/1 are an example of that in what they achieved in the Battle of Hue City.”

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“This ship will achieve greatness, but it will only do that by the courageous actions of the many,” Sargent continued. “It is in honor of my father, my family, members of the 1/1, and the great people of the United States that I give the command: officers and crew of the USS John L. Canley, man our ship and bring her to life!”

‘A beautiful ship named after a very brave man’
Expeditionary Sea Base USS John L. Canley at Naval Air Station North Island
Expeditionary Sea Base USS John L. Canley at Naval Air Station North Island.

Paul Garcia recalled his time serving alongside Canley in 1968, saying he “earned the respect of every member of our unit because of his selflessness during combat.”

“During major battles, he’d go out into the open and save Marines after they were shot,” Garcia told the Orange County Register. “I just feel honored I served with him.”

Garcia was part of a private tour of the warship following its commission, describing it as a “beautiful ship named after a very brave man.”

“It will afford the Marine Corps the ability to be prepared in any location to attack in an amphibious landing,” he said.

‘An inspiration to all who follow in her wake’
Expeditionary Sea Base USS John L. Canley at Naval Air Station North Island, where the ship was commissioned.
Expeditionary Sea Base USS John L. Canley at Naval Air Station North Island, where the ship was commissioned.

“It is my firm belief that USS John L. Canley will serve as an inspiration to all who follow in her wake,” US Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said during the commissioning ceremony earlier this month.

“It is my sincere hope that for those who come aboard this ship — those in the United States Navy, the Marine Corps, Military Sealift Command — when they cross that bow, they’re also challenged to live up to the unwavering devotion to duty that this ship’s namesake.”

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