The second USS Tarawa (LHA 1) was built by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of the Litton Industries at Pascagoula, Mississippi, and commissioned May 29, 1976. Tarawa was the first in a new generation of multipurpose amphibious assault ships, a vital member of the Navy/Marine Corps team in the Pacific Fleet and a major factor in U.S. power projection overseas.
Tarawa's first deployment to the Western Pacific began in March 1979. In addition to an embarked helicopter squadron, the ship operated with temporarily assigned AV-8A "Harrier" jets in a successful experiment to determine feasibility of operating vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft from an amphibious assault ship. During this deployment, Tarawa rescued 400 Vietnamese refugees who were adrift in the South China Sea. Upon returning, Tarawa won her first Admiral James H. Flatley Memorial Award for Naval Aviation Safety.
The "Eagle of the Sea" began her second deployment in October, 1980, with a composite squadron of 29 helicopters and six AV-8As. The squadron was the first in Marine Corps aviation history to conduct integrated helicopter/fighter operations aboard an LHA for an extended deployment of more than five months.
Tarawa completed her third deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean in November, 1983. During this deployment, Tarawa was diverted to the troubled waters of the Eastern Mediterranean by order of President Ronald Reagan to support the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force in Beirut, Lebanon. After returning, Tarawa won her second Admiral Flatley Award.