The second U.S. Navy ship named for a river which rises in Tangipahao Parish, La., and flows into the Natalbany River. The first Ponchatoula was laid down as a gasoline tanker (AOG-38) on 7 June 1944, subsequently reclassified to an oiler (AO-38), and served from 1944-1946.
(AO-148: displacement 38,000; length 655'; beam 86'; draft 35'; speed 20 knots; complement 324; armament 2 5-inch, 12 3-inch; class Neosho)
The second Ponchatoula (AO-148) was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J., on 1 March 1954; launched on 9 July 1955; sponsored by Mrs. I. N. Kiland; and commissioned on 12 January 1956, Capt. William R. Wilson in command.
After fitting out at Philadelphia, Pa., Ponchatoula, the sixth of a class designed to combine speed and large cargo capacity for rapid underway replenishment over extended operational periods, got underway for the Pacific. Arriving at Long Beach, Calif., on 10 March 1956, she underwent shakedown and training exercises off the California coast and in September deployed to the Far East. Enroute she assistedVenus, a Panamanian merchantman lying helpless on the fringes of two typhoons. Taking Venus in tow on 26 March, Ponchatoula turned over her tow two days later, and continued on to Sasebo, Japan, to join the Seventh Fleet.
Rotated regularly to the Western Pacific for the next few years, Ponchatoula was homeported at Pearl Harbor, Hi., in early 1958 and received her introduction to support under hostile conditions while operating with the Seventh Fleet during the Kinmen (Quemoy) and Matsu Crisis in the fall of that year. Support for experimental operations highlighted 1962 as she provided petroleum, oil, and lubricants services to Joint Task Force 8, engaged in operation "Dominic the Christmas Island nuclear test series," then supported Project Mercury recovery ships during the "Sigma splashdown." Repeating that support with Faith Seven 1963, she shifted to combat operations in October 1964, deploying to the South China Sea to refuel ships employ the coast of Vietnam. Some 279 refuelings later, she returned to Hawaiian waters.
In June 1965, she participated in recovery operations for Gemini IV, and deployed again to the Vietnam War on 6 September 1966. On 24 April 1967, she returned to Hawaii, having set a new record in the Pacific Fleet by bringing 503 ships alongside, 464 of which she refueled. Deployed to the Western Pacific again in November 1967, she pumped over 74 million gallons of fuel through her hoses before returning home in June 1968. In October she again joined ships in the Pacific splashdown area, this time to recover Apollo 7.
By 8 December, Ponchatoula returned to the Philippines, whence she made for Yankee Station in Tonkin Gulf on 15 October to again replenish ships operating in support of Allied operations in Vietnam. In July 1969, she returned home and into 1970 remained in Hawaiian waters.
Detailed history under construction.
Updated and expanded by Mark L. Evans
30 September 2015