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Ships Named After Living Persons

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus announced 06 January 2016 that the first ship of the next generation of fleet replenishment oilers (T-AO 205) will be named USNS John Lewis after the civil rights movement hero and current US representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District. The future USNS John Lewis will be operated by Military Sealift Command and provide underway replenishment of fuel and stores to U.S. Navy ships at sea and jet fuel for aircraft assigned to aircraft carriers. A contract will be awarded for the ship in summer 2016 and construction is expected to begin in 2018.

On 10 February 2012 Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that the Navys fifth Independence-variant littoral combat ship, 10th in the LCS series, will be commissioned as the USS Gabrielle Giffords, Mabus said during a ceremony in the Pentagons center courtyard. You make this occasion special by your presence, Mabus told Giffords. What you did in Congress for our military, and for those who serve in it, gave substance to what America feels for those in uniform.

Naming LCS-10 the USS Gabrielle Giffords violates the practice of naming LCS vessels after American midsized cities, small towns and communities. Her closest link to the sea services appears to be the fact that she served on the House Committee on Armed Services Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, which conducts oversight of ammunition programs, Army and Air Force acquisition programs, all Navy and Marine Corps aviation programs, and National Guard and Army and Air Force National Guard and Reserve. Mabus said that Giffords' work as a member of the House Armed Services Committee had helped the Navy use more alternative fuels and renewable energy. And "We also need to note your devotion to one particular naval officer," he said -- Giffords' husband, retired Navy Capt. and former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.

News accounts noted that in April 2010, critics lobbied Mabus to reconsider plans for the USS John P. Murtha, citing his opposition to the Iraq war. Given that the sitting President of the United States, Commander and Chief and Leader of the Free World, Barack Hussein Obama, had also been critical of the war in Iraq, this was not a particularly compelling argument. John Murtha is, however, a bad name for a San Antonio class amphibious ship because all the other ships of this class are named after cities. And conservatives objected in early 2011 when the Navy announced plans for the USNS Cesar Chavez, after the farm worker leader. The ship prior to Cesar Chavez was the Medgar Evers, consistent with the practice of naming the T-AKE Lewis and Clark class Auxiliary Dry Cargo Carrier after distinguished Americans. Both these men were dead, and both had long and distinguished careers, even if some on the political far right disagreed with some of their views.

The CVN-77 George H.W. Bush, comissioned on 10 January 2009, and the SSN-785 John Warner, named on 08 January 2009, are other recent examples of the corruption and decadence of the system for naming US Navy warships.

During the Revolutionary period a variety of [mostly minor] vessels were named after George Washington and other outstanding figures of the period. In the 19th Century, the last vessel named after a living person was the USS Harriet Lane, commissioned by the US Revenue Cutter Service in 1857, transferred to the US Navy in 1861, named for Harriet Lane, niece and surrogate First Lady of bachelor President James Buchanan. Lane died in 1903. The first submarine of the US Navy, the Holland (SS-1), was commissioned in 1900 and named after the constructor of the vessel John Philip Holland, who died August 1914. And for 75 years thereafter, no American warship was named after a living person.

The U.S. Postal Service and the members of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) have set certain basic criteria used in determining the eligibility of subjects for commemoration on all U.S. stamps and stationery. These criteria first were formulated about the time of Postal Reorganization in the early 1970s, and have been refined and expanded gradually since then. No living person shall be honored by portrayal on U.S. postage. Commemorative stamps or postal stationery items honoring individuals usually will be issued on, or in conjunction with significant anniversaries of their birth, but no postal item will be issued sooner than five years after the individual's death. The Committee will not accept or consider proposals for a subject until at least three years after his/her death. The only exception to the five-year rule is the issuance of stamps honoring deceased U.S. presidents. They may be honored with a memorial stamp on the first birth anniversary following death.

H. Robert Campbell, President of the American Numismatic Association, noted in 2000 that "To prevent ... self-aggrandizement and potential deification, the United States established a rule that no living person should be portrayed on a coin of the realm. Even George Washington rejected having his image placed on a coin on the grounds that it smacked of monarchy and was out of place in a republic." No living person has been depicted on a coin of general circulation. To date, four men and one woman have been portrayed on U.S. commemorative coins during their lifetime. Governor T.E. Kilby on the front of the 1921 Alabama Centennial. This is the first time a living person's portrait was used on a U.S. coin. President Calvin Coolidge on the front of the 1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence. This is the first time a portrait of a president appeared on a coin struck during his lifetime. Senator Carter Glass on the front of the 1936 Lynchburg, Virginia, Sesquicentennial coin. Senator Glass's portrait apparently appeared against his wishes. Senator Joseph T. Robinson on the back of the 1936 Robinson-Arkansas Centennial coin. The only recent aberration was the 1995 Special Olympics commemorative $1 coin, featuring program sponsor Eunice Shriver. To her credit, Mrs. Shriver noted that while she was proud to be portrayed on the coin, she did so to help the very worthy cause of Special Olympics International.

In 1942 Admiral Richmond K. Turner was then sent to the Pacific war zone to take commander of the Amphibious Force, South Pacific Force. Over the next three years, while holding a variety of senior Pacific Fleet amphibious force commands as both a Rear Admiral and Vice Admiral, he planned and executed the conquest of enemy positions in the south, central and western Pacific, contributing greatly to ultimate victory in the World's greatest naval war. In the rank of Admiral, he would have commanded the amphibious component of the invasion of Japan, had that nation not capitulated in mid-1945. He retired from active duty in July 1947. Admiral Richmond K. Turner died in Monterey, California, on 12 February 1961. The guided missile frigate (later cruiser) Richmond K. Turner (DLG-20, later CG-20) was named in honor of Admiral Turner. The keel of the USS RICHMOND K. TURNER was laid on January 9, 1961 by New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey, one of nine Leahy-class "double-ended" guided missile destroyers. At that time, it was the practice to name ships after they were laid down, rather than before, so Adm. Turner had died before the ship was named.

While the Navy has attempted to be systematic in naming its ships, in recent years it seems there has been a complete breakdown in any attempt to sustain a systematic practice in the name categories for ship types. The first ship named for a living person in modern times was USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in 1975.

ships named for living people
1CVN 70Carl Vinson13 Mar 198201 Jun 1981
2SSN 709Hyman G. Rickover21 Jul 1984 08 Jul 1986
3DDG 51Arleigh Burke04 Jul 199101 Jan 1996
4T-AKR 300Bob Hope27 Oct 199827 Jul 2003
5CVN-74John Stennis09 Dec 199524 Apr 1995
6CVN 76Ronald Reagan12 Jul 200305 Jun 2004
7SSN 23 Jimmy Carter19 Feb 2005
8DDG 94Nitze05 Mar 200519 Oct 2004
9CVN-77 George H.W. Bush10 Jan 2009
10DDG 108Wayne E. MeyerFall 2009
11CVN-78Gerald R. Ford2014
12SSN-785John WarnerOct 2015
13LCS-10Gabrielle Giffords2016
14TAO 205John Lewis2020 ?
15DDG 137John F. Lehman202x?

On 16 April 2004 a new Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer was christened in honor of former Secretary of the Navy Paul H. Nitze. A man of remarkable lifetime achievement, Nitze, who was 97 at the time, was the eighth living person to have a Navy vessel named after him. Nitze died on 19 October 2004, before the ship was commissioned.

The celebration of living ex-Presidents continued when President George W. Bush delivered the principal address at the christening ceremony of the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, CVN-77, named for his father, former President George H. W. Bush, on 07 October 2006 at Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipyard, Newport News, VA. But it has reached a moment of crisis with the naming of CVN-78 Gerald Ford. The first unit of the CVN-68 class was named for Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, the architect of victory at sea against the Japanese in World War II. One of the most accomplished naval leaders of the 20th Century in any country, his name was attached to the most successful aircraft carrier design of all time. The CVN-68 class is now slated to be succeeded by the CVN-78 class. It is difficult to fathom how the US Navy will spend the entire 21st century with the Ford-class aircraft carriers. While there is no doubt that Gerald Ford is a decent man who led the country through a difficult period, his service in public life was generally un-remarkable, and his service since retiring from public life have been extremly unremarkable by the standards established by his successors. During his brief tenure as President, Ford developed a reputation for clumsiness, and was an easy object of derision. While there is something to be said for naming a great ship after someone who was a common sailor during World War II, this is a thin reed indeed.

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Page last modified: 09-11-2020 18:44:41 ZULU