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Ed Ross | Monday, February 13, 2012

The U.S. Navy announced last week that it will name its newest Littoral Combat Ship (LCS 10) after former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. I admire Giffords, and I believe she has handled her situation with grace and courage; and if Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus wants to name a ship after her, thatís his prerogative. Nevertheless, is it a good idea to name Navy ships after young, living former politicians, no matter how much we may empathize with them?

In the long history of the U.S. Navy the secretary has named other ships after people who werenít presidents, Medal of Honor recipients, or distinguished USN/USMC officers and enlisted men. In 1777 a ship was named after the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, 16 years before her ill-fated rendezvous with the guillotine during the French Revolution. That decision, no doubt, was a political one intended to garner France's support during the American Revolution.

U.S. Navy ships, however, rarely are named after living Americans, not to mention foreigners. Currently only two ships are, and both are for U.S. Presidents who were bestowed that honor after a lifetime of service to their country. Those ships are the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23), the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77).

If youíre a Republican you may not think President Carter was worthy of the honor. Likewise, if youíre a Democrat, you may feel the same way about President Bush. Both, however, were U.S. Navy veterans that became presidents of the United States. Only 44 men in U.S. history have attained that position. President Carter was a nuclear submarine officer. President Bush flew off an aircraft carrier in World War II. I doubt politics had anything to do with either decision.

Fifteen U.S. Navy ships have been named after women such as Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, RDML Grace Hopper, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Amelia Earhart. Those women distinguished themselves with exceptional achievements. Amelia Earhart was a victim of a plane crash in her attempt to circumvent the world, but not before she had broken numerous aviation records and inspired a generation of young women.

Gabrielle Giffords also was a victim, the victim of a vicious and horrible crime by a deranged lunatic. She was serving her country and doing her job when she was shot, meeting with her constituents at a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. Her recovery was long and difficult; and, knowing that she had many more months of therapy ahead of her, she gracefully resigned her seat in Congress because she knew she could not provide her constituents the kind of representation they deserved. She is an admirable woman.

Giffordís career as a member of Congress, however, was not exceptional before the Tucson shootings. She was a likeable moderate Democratic Representative who got along well with Republicans and Democrats. Until her name was thrust into the national spotlight, few Americans knew who she was.

The question is does Giffordís ordeal as a shooting victim and how she handled it place her in the ranks of the men and women U.S. Navy ships should be named after?  

As a Vietnam War combat veteran who, along with the other veterans of that war, came home to an ungrateful country, I admit that I am acutely sensitive about issues involving military veterans and how they are honored and treated. Certainly, they are treated much better today than we were then. Still there are far more of them who have been physically and mentally maimed than there are ships to name after them.

I've spent a lot of time at the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and now at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, since my kidney transplant in 1985. Since 2003, I haven't walked into Walter Reed without encountering young amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, and warriors with other serious physical and psychological wounds. Each time I do, my heart goes out to them.

They are an inspiration to me because I have yet to encounter one that did not make me proud of the American warrior. When I speak to them, they smile, look me in the eye and respond strongly and positively as they would have had I encountered them before their ordeal.  Those I have spoken at length with had incredible stories of survival and heroism. Few Americans beyond their family and friends, however, know their names; and the U.S. Navy isnít naming ships after any of them.

They and I donít expect that they should have ships or anything else named after them. If you ask them they will tell you they were just doing their job.

Then there are the many recipients of the Medal of Honor and other USN and USMC heroes whose deeds were extraordinary, many of whom have had ships named after them, such as the USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112). Murphy was the U.S. Navy SEAL posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Afghanistan and the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive the award since the Vietnam War.

Some might argue that politics was involved in a Democratic Secretary of the Navyís naming of a U.S. Navy ship after a former and living Democratic Representatives. I donít know that, and I donít make that accusation.

My concern is that there are far too many men and women who have served their country far above and beyond the call of duty throughout American history who are overlooked and ignored when opportunities to honor them arise.


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Navy Ship to be Named After Gabrielle Giffords

Ship Naming in the United States Navy

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List of U.S. Military Vessels Named After Living Americans

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Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy





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