Her keel was laid down on 5 March 1973 at Pascagoula, Mississippi, by Ingalls Shipbuilding. She was launched on 11 April 1977, and commissioned on 23 September 1978, Captain T.C. Steele in command.
Belleau Wood was the third of five ships in a new class of general-purpose amphibious assault ships and combined in one ship type the functions previously performed by four different types: the amphibious assault ship (LPH), the amphibious transport dock (LPD), the amphibious cargo ship (LKA), and the dock landing ship (LSD). She was capable of landing elements of a United States Marine Corps battalion landing team and their supporting equipment by landing craft, by helicopters, or by a combination of both.