Cyclone was laid down on 31 July 1943 under a Maritime Commission contract (M. C. Hull 1347) at Wilmington, N.C., by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 27 September 1943; sponsored by Mrs. T. L. Lainer; renamed Mount McKinley on 27 December 1943 and classified as an amphibious force flagship (AGC-7); and commissioned at the Philadelphia [Pa.] Navy Yard on 1 May 1944; Capt. Roy W. M. Graham in command.
After a brief shakedown cruise, Mount McKinley departed Norfolk, Va., on 8 June 1944 for the Hawaiian islands, arriving at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 27 June. The new amphibious force flagship got underway on 20 July, for the Palau Islands with Commander Amphibious Group (ComPhibGru) 5 embarked. The assault force arrived off Peleliu on 15 September, with ComPhibGru 5 directing the landing of the 1st Marine Division. On 28 September, she proceeded to nearby Ngesebus Island to provide shore bombardment coordination.
Mount McKinley left the area on 14 October 1944 after Peleliu and the other main islands of the chain were secure. After a stop at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, the ship sailed to San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, for the assault on Leyte and Ormoc. While in San Pedro Bay, the force was under constant air attack, but the amphibious force flagship was not hit. On 15 December, she participated in the invasion of Mindoro and proceeded to Lingayen Gulf to direct shore bombardment on 9 January 1945. After directing an unopposed landing at San Narcisco, near Subic Bay, she returned to Leyte Gulf.
On 21 March 1945, Mount McKinley proceeded to Kerama Retto off the southern coast of Okinawa. Six days prior to the last major assault of the war, the ship served as the platform for the direction of the landing of the 77th Infantry Division. For the next two months, the ship remained at anchorage at Kerama Retto, threatened by constant air attacks. On 22 May, she sailed for Saipan, thence to Pearl Harbor and San Francisco, arriving on the west coast on 23 June.
In overhaul for two months, Mount McKinley deployed on 20 August 1945, five days after V-J Day. Reaching Sasebo on 23 September, she participated in landing occupation troops there and at Kure. Returning to the United States on 12 February 1946, she sailed in the early summer for Bikini Atoll where she served as flagship for Joint Task Force (JTF) 1, in Operation Crossroads. Following those atomic bomb tests in July, the ship operated out of San Diego for the next 18 months. In early 1948, she served as the command ship for the atomic bomb test at Eniwetok, upon the conclusion of which she returned to San Diego to resume coastal operations.
On 20 May 1950, Mount McKinley got underway for the western Pacific to conduct training operations with the U.S. Eighth Army. On 26 June, when North Korea invaded the South, the ship proceeded from Japan to direct the landing of American reinforcements at Po Han. In early September 1950, General Douglas MacArthur was on board, directing the amphibious assault at Inchon that forced the Communist forces to retreat northward. The next assault was against the heavily mined port of Wonsan.
When Communist Chinese troops entered the war, and pushed American troops back to the Hungman beachhead, Mount McKinley assisted in the evacuation of that port. In late January 1951, she assisted in the transfer of thousands of Korean refugees to Cheja Island.
On 7 June 1951, Mount McKinley sailed from Yokosuka and entered Mare Island Naval Shipyard on 3 August for an extensive overhaul. Mount McKinley departed for the western Pacific on 6 March 1952, returning to the States on 30 January 1953. While the ship lay in Mare Island Naval Shipyard, she received a helicopter deck on the fantail.
Mount McKinley sailed on 27 October 1953, for her third tour of duty in the Far East, arriving at Yokosuka on 16 November. From then until her departure for the U.S. on 30 July 1954, she operated in fleet and amphibious exercises off Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. After arrival in San Diego on 18 August 1954, she spent the remainder of the year in local operations and a month‑long training exercise off Hawaii in October.
In the spring of 1955, Mount McKinley served as flagship for Operation Wigwam, an underwater atomic bomb test in the central Pacific. After a yard overhaul in the summer of 1955, the amphibious flagship returned to the western Pacific in January 1956 for a three month period. In April, she was press observer ship for further nuclear tests.
On 3 June 1956, Mount McKinley returned to San Diego and was detached from the Pacific Fleet on 1 September. She arrived at Norfolk on 20 September via the Panama Canal.
On 9 January 1957, Mount McKinley deployed to the Mediterranean. While in the eastern "Med", the ship rescued the crew of a burning Greek fishing vessel, extinguished the fire, and towed the damaged vessel into Port. After conducting North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and fleet exercises in the Mediterranean, she returned to Norfolk on 19 June. She spent September and early October in NATO exercises in the eastern Atlantic.
In January 1958, Mount McKinley deployed to the Sixth Fleet, operating with the Amphibious Ready Group in NATO and U.S. exercises. Due to return to the U.S. in June, the ship's departure was delayed due to increasing tensions in the Mideast, and she served as an afloat headquarters for the U.S. Marines landed in Lebanon during the crisis of July 1958. She returned to Norfolk on 16 August.
Mount McKinley's third Mediterranean cruise from 20 February to 26 August 1959 was marked by seven amphibious exercises involving U.S. and NATO forces.
In February 1960, the ship sailed to Valparaiso, Chile, via the Panama Canal, to provide communications support for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Good Will visit to Latin America. On 19 April, she again deployed to the Sixth Fleet, returning to Norfolk on 7 December.
Upon completion of her yard period in the summer of 1961, Mount McKinley made her fifth deployment to the Mediterranean from September to February 1962, acting as flagship for several large‑scale amphibious exercises.
In October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mount McKinley served at flagship for Commander Amphibious Force, Atlantic (ComPhibLant) and ComPhibGru 4. Following the Cuban Quarantine, she sailed for the Mediterranean on 10 January 1963 to act as command flagship for the Amphibious Strike Force. Arriving back in Norfolk on 2 August, she entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for a Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) II overhaul that extended from September 1963 to January 1964.
After refresher training and Exercise Quick Kick V, Mount McKinley departed Norfolk on 10 May 1964, arriving at San Diego on 26 May via the Panama Canal. Immediately after the Tonkin Gulf incident that summer, she was deployed to Southeast Asia, sailing from San Diego on 25 August 1964 and arriving off Luzon on 16 September. She relieved Eldorado (AGC-11) at Subic Bay a week later, becoming flagship of the Seventh Fleet, Amphibious Strike Force. She took station in the South China Sea, with other elements of Amphibious Group 1, prepared for any contingency.
While proceeding to Bangkok, Mount McKinley came to assistance of Herkimer, whose master was severely ill, taking him on board for further treatment in Singapore while the MSTS ship sailed on to Saigon. In early March and again in mid‑April 1965, the flagship coordinated the landing of USMC reinforcements at Danang and Hue, South Vietnam. Relieved by Estes (AGC-12) at Subic Bay in April, she returned to San Diego on 15 May 1965.
The amphibious force flagship sailed again from San Diego on 15 March 1966, reaching Subic Bay on 17 April via Pearl Harbor. Based there, the ship visited ports in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Okinawa, acting as flagship of ComPhibGru 1. On 23 August, Mount McKinley sailed for home, arriving on 19 September.
She sailed on her third WesPac deployment on 1 July 1967, arriving off Danang on 28 July to become once more the flagship of Commander, Seventh Fleet Amphibious Force. She provided communications support for search and destroy operations against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars. Relieved in mid‑January 1968, Mount McKinley reached San Diego on 10 February.
Mount McKinley's designation was changed from an amphibuious force flagship, AGC‑7, to an amphibious command ship, LCC‑7, on 1 January 1969. She engaged in type training and amphibious exercises on the west coast as flagship of ComPhibGru 3. Ultimately, she was decommissioned on 26 March 1970.
Entering the Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay, Calif., on 23 November 1970, Mount McKinley was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 July 1976. She underwent stripping (17 January - 1 March 1977), then was sold, for non transportation use, on 22 September 1977 to National Metal & Steel Corp., San Diego. The veteran of service in three wars was withdrawn from the Reserve Fleet on 19 October 1977 to be broken up.
Mount McKinley received five battle stars for her World War II service, eight stars for her service in the Korean conflict, and three for service in the Vietnam War. In addition, she received four Navy Unit Commendations (World War II) and a Meritorious Unit Commendation for her sterling work during the Vietnam War between 30 July 1967 and 21 February 1968.
Updated, Robert J. Cressman
18 August 2016