USS SANCTUARY (AH-17)
Sanctuary (AH-17) was laid down as Marine Owl by the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Chester,
Pa.; launched as Sanctuary (AH-17)
on 15 August 1944; sponsored by Mrs.
Alda Andrus; and delivered on 30
September 1944. Subsequently converted to a hospital ship by the Todd Shipbuilding Co., at Hoboken, N.J., whose citizens matched the cost of
conversion with the purchase of war
bonds, she was commissioned on 20
June 1945, Comdr. John M. Paulsson, USNR,
in command of the ship; Capt. Oscar Davis, MC, USN, in charge of the medical department.
Following the shakedown, Sanctuary
departed Norfolk on 31 July for
the Pacific. She arrived at Pearl Harbor four days after the Japanese
acceptance of surrender terms and, on 22 August, continued on to the Far East to assist in the repatriation of former POW's.
Proceeding via Okinawa, Sanctuary
arrived off Wakayama in Task Group
56.5 on 11 September; then waited as
minecraft cleared the channels. On the afternoon of the 13th, she commenced taking on sick, injured, and ambulatory cases. By 0300 on the 14th,
she had exceeded her rated bed capacity of 786. A call was put out to
the fleet requesting cots. The request was answered;
and, seven hours later, she sailed for Okinawa with 1,139 liberated
POWs, primarily British, Australian, and
Javanese, embarked for the first leg of their journey home. Despite a typhoon encountered en route, Sanctuary delivered her charges
safely to Army personnel at Naha; and, by the 21st, was underway for Nagasaki. Arriving on the 22d, she embarked more
ex-POWs; then loaded military
personnel rotating back to the United
States and steamed for Naha. On the 25th, she discharged her liberated
prisoners; then shifted to Buckner Bay. A
typhoon warning next sent her to sea; but she returned three days later; took
on 439 civilian repatriates, including
some 40 children under the age of
ten, and military repatriates and passengers; and set a course for Guam. There, she exchanged passengers for patients; then continued on to San
Francisco, arriving on 22 October.
Between 18 November and
17 December, Sanctuary completed a run to Saipan and Guam, and
back to San Francisco. During late December
1945 and January 1946, she made two
round trips between California and Hawaii.
On 7 February, she departed San Francisco for Philadelphia and deactivation. She arrived at League Island on 1 March and was decommissioned on 15 August. For the next 15 years, she was
berthed with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. On 1 September 1961, however, her name was struck from the Navy list, and she was transferred to the Maritime
Administration for berthing with the National Defense Reserve Fleet.
Less than five years
later, on 1 March 1966, Sanctury was reacquired by the
Navy and reinstated on the Navy list.
Towed to Louisiana, she was modernized at the Avondale Shipyards, Inc., Westwego; and was re-commissioned at New Orleans on 15 November 1966. Modernization had given her a heliport, three x-ray
units, a blood bank, an artificial
kidney machine, ultrasonic diagnostic
equipment, a recompression chamber and other modern equipment, medical,
culinary, laundry, etc., to supplement
her 20 wards and four operating
rooms. Three hundred and sixteen medical personnel were assigned to staff the
Naval Hospital embarked in Sanctuary.
Her mission had shifted in emphasis: from that of an "ambulance" ship carrying wounded and sick to hospitals in rear areas, to that of a fully
equipped hospital carrying medical
facilities close to the combat area.
On 8 March 1967, Sanctuary departed San Francisco for the Far East. On 2 April, she joined the 7th
Fleet at Subic Bay. On the 10th, she
arrived at Danang, South Vietnam; and that afternoon took on her first casualties-ten marines badly burned when their amphibious tank detonated a land mine, which, in
turn, had exploded the gasoline tank. By midnight, 136 patients had been received. By the end of April, she
had admitted 717 patients-319 combat casualties, 72 non-combat injuries,
326 suffering from various diseases- and
treated 682 outpatients. Only two of her patients died.
Assigned to duty off
South Vietnam on a non-rotating basis, Sanctuary began her
extended overseas tour spending a minimum of
50 days operating on the line each
quarter, followed by an availability and upkeep period at Subic Bay. By April 1968, after a year on that schedule, she had admitted 5,354 patients and treated another 9,187 on an outpatient basis.
Helicopters, bringing patients from
the battlefield, transferring them
from and to other medical facilities, or carrying passengers to and from the ship, had made more than 2,500 landings on her deck.
The following month, Sanctuary's
schedule was changed to 90 day
on-the-line periods. Her operating area
and her itinerary on the line, however, remained the same. She continued to operate off the I Corps Tactical area, the northern provinces of South
Vietnam; and, for the most part,
rotated between stations, such as
Danang, Phu Bai, Chu Lai, and Dong Ha, every two to four days as needed by the
marines fighting ashore.
brief rest and recreation out of the area, Sanctuary-the only Navy
hospital off Vietnam after 16 March
1970-maintained her busy schedule to
that date and increased it thereafter through 1970 and into 1971. On 23
April 1971, she departed Danang for the last
time. During May, she visited Hong
Kong and called at Sasebo; then sailed for Pearl Harbor and San Francisco, where she arrived on 10 June.
In commission, in reserve, as of 31 August 1971, Sanctuary
was decommissioned on 15 December. The next
11 months were spent at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard where she was converted for use as a dependent's hospital and as a commissary/Navy exchange retail
store. Another change brought the assignment of two women officers and 60
enlisted women to the ship for other than medical duties, and, on
recommissioning on 18 November 1972, she
became the first United States Navy
ship with a mixed male-female ship's company.
Sanctuary remained in Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard until
late January 1973, when she put to sea for two weeks of refresher training. She returned to Hunter's Point on 22 February and remained berthed until 16 August, when she got underway for two
days cruising. Returning to San
Francisco on the 17th, Sanctuary began a period of restricted availability during
which her propulsion system was converted to Navy
After several weeks
preparation, she got underway, in
mid-September, for a three-month goodwill cruise to South America. On this mission, sponsored by the State
Department, Sanctuary assisted the peoples of Colombia and Haiti in three distinct areas: medical aid, material aid (by delivering over $500,000
worth of non-monetary donations), and
civic action projects (civil
engineering projects). She visited Buena Ventura, Colombia, from 12
October to 6 November and stopped at
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from 13 November until early December. She arrived at Mayport, Fla., her new home port, on 14 December and remained there for the duration of the year.
Through the first six months of 1974, Sanctuary is operating along the eastern seaboard of the United States and in the Caribbean. Her base of
operations is still Mayport, Fla.
Sanctuary earned eleven battle stars for service in the Vietnam War.
[Note: The above USS SANCTUARY (AH-17) history may, or may not, contain text provided by crew members of the USS SANCTUARY (AH-17), or by other non-crew members, and text from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships]