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The accidental warship

On one of the discussion boards I read, I discovered last week that Senator John Warner has stuck an amendment into a defense bill designating the name for our next nuclear aircraft carrier, currently known only by its registry number, CVN-78 (Carrier, aViation, Nuclear-powered, #78). Many Navy veterans and supporters had lobbied intensely for the ship to carry the name of a prior carrier, one that served honorably and with distinction. "Lexington" (CV-2, CV-16) was one put forward, as was the "America" (CV-66). Some, anticipating the retirement of CVN-65, wanted to make sure there was still an "Enterprise" in the Navy.

But Senator Warner thought differently, and CVN-78 will be christened as the USS Gerald R. Ford.

Now, I freely admit I think Ford is an underrated president. He never expected to hold the Oval Office, and his work truly started the "healing process" after the national nightmare of Watergate. But I have a serious problem with naming aircraft carriers after politicians, and still-living ones even more.

In the amendment designating CVN-78's name, Warner cited Ford's honorable career in the Navy and long public service record as justification for the action.

I cannot more strongly disagree.

Ford, as I said, did a decent job, but his record is hardly the sort of inspirational sort that a nuclear aircraft carrier should be named for. Such vessels deserve prouder, more valiant, more legendary names than his.

This started in 1945, when the USS Coral Sea (CVB-42) was renamed while still being built as the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was proper, as Roosevelt had just recently died in office after leading the United States for over 13 years, including nearly all of World War II. In 1955, the USS Forrestal was named after a late Secretary of the Navy. Then, in 1964, Congress voted to name CV-67 the USS John F. Kennedy after the slain president.

Since then, aircraft carriers have no longer been named after either battles or distinguished warships of the past. They have honored seven presidents, two members of Congress, and one Admiral. Worse yet, three of them were named by Congress (Stennis, Reagan, Bush) for people who were still alive. (Stennis died months before his namesake was actually commissioned, in 1995, but the ship was named in 1988.)

In an ideal world, I'd like to see aircraft carriers not be named after individuals at all, especially politicians. (The sole exception would be for those people who were exceptional naval leaders, such as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who led the US Navy to victory in World War II. Considering what he did for the role of the aircraft carrier, I think the name of CVN-68 to be only fitting and just.) And to do so while the namesake is still alive is even worse -- one of my favorite authors, James Cobb, named his high-tech warship in his series of technothrillers after a Viet Nam naval ace back in 1996, and now I bet is kicking himself for so honoring Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

So the man who was never elected to the presidency and served the shortest term (discounting those who died in office) will be honored by a vessel that, in all likelihood, bear his name for a good half a century. Meanwhile, the valiant names of Lexington, Saratoga, Intrepid, and many others will be allowed to fade into history.

I'm glad you got to honor your friend while he is still with us, Senator Warner. I just wish you'd found some other way to do so.

Comments (41)

Oh Lord! Talk about a jinx... (Below threshold)

Oh Lord! Talk about a jinx. Has a CVN run aground yet? Capsized on a calm day? Plunked a golfing companion on the head?

How about the U.S.S. Donald... (Below threshold)

How about the U.S.S. Donald Rumsfeld? I think that it would be far less controversial...

Mayber the USS Chevy Chase ... (Below threshold)

Mayber the USS Chevy Chase will have a career again.

Indeed. I regard Gerald Fo... (Below threshold)

Indeed. I regard Gerald Ford very highly - probably more than most - and I still would not name a carrier after him, even probably in death. One of those other names would be better.

Jay Tea, be sure to check your e-mail.

You missed the USS Carl Vin... (Below threshold)
Joe Edmon:

You missed the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), a congressman who just happend to have served as Chairman of the House Naval Affairs and Armed Services Committee when Rickover was looking for congressional funding for another one of his 'toys.'

Ford was probably feeling left out as being the only post WWII president to not have a ship named after him (other than Johnson and Nixon, but the reasons should be obvious as to why), and this is a sop to an old friend.

I would like to make a mode... (Below threshold)
John Gardner:

I would like to make a modest proposal.

Let's open up the process to everyone - not just politicians, not just military personnel - but EVERYONE.

We could fully fund the armed forces by charging a hefty amount for the naming privileges. Anyone who was willing to pony up the cash would have the right to get a warship named after him or her... or maybe even them! Groups of people could pool their money and squabble amongst themselves as what to actually name the ship. Could you imagine a destroyer known as the U.S.S. "Jones Family (Except For Pacifist Karen And Tim Who Stiffed Us For His Share)"!

We could even offer corporate sponsorships. How about the U.S.S. "Trojans" for a missile cruiser? (Or would that be the "Xaviera Hollander"?)

Now, all silliness aside, warships need names. They're necessary for unit cohesion (people generally won't fight for a number), they're easier to command ("Cruiser 9675, launch - no, that's not right, I mean Cruiser 9765... or was that 6975?...") and they help maintain a tradition that helps in the long term of the organization.

I would suggest that Senator Warner recall the words of another Senator, Cato the Elder:

"I would rather that people ask why there are no statues to me than ask why there are any."

Hmmm.Sorry but I w... (Below threshold)


Sorry but I want to propose, again, the proper name for the new aircraft carrier:

The USS Richard Milhouse Nixon a ka "Tricky Dick".

Mostly just to annoy liberals. :)

We could try naming ships f... (Below threshold)
John Gardner:

We could try naming ships for disasters. The U.S.S. Johnstown Flood, the U.S.S. 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, or even the U.S.S. 1919 Boston Molasses Flood (not suggested for an oiler)

i'm not sure if they still ... (Below threshold)

i'm not sure if they still do it, but many of the european powers used to (back in the 18th and early 19th centuries) name new warships after foreign ships that had fought well against them.

How about the Yorktown? Tha... (Below threshold)

How about the Yorktown? That is another proud ship name in the United States Navy. After all, it was at Yorktown is where we finally kicked British butt to give us our independence. She also contributed to the mauling of the Japanese at Midway.

EdI think the U.S.S.... (Below threshold)

I think the U.S.S. Tricky Dick would be more than an annoyment? the libs would be foaming at the mouth. wait a sec? dont they already do that?

Speaking of natural(Bush caused)disasters..How about the U.S.S.Katrina or U.S.S.Tsunami.

When I flew in the USAF we ... (Below threshold)

When I flew in the USAF we always liked the names the Russians gave our aircraft over what either Congress or the Pentagon called them. I flew F-16s whose official US designation was "Fighting Falcon". Yawn.

The Warsaw Pact, however, had codenamed it the "Viper". Now THAT was a much cooler sounding name. To this day F-16 pilots refer to themselves as "Viper drivers". None I know and knew ever called themselves "Falcon drivers".

You might think more of For... (Below threshold)
Mrs. Davis:

You might think more of Ford if he'd been elected to a full term. But to do that, he'd have had to have not pardoned Nixon. But then he wouldn't be great.

Bad idea to name anything for someone alive.

I also believe that naming ... (Below threshold)

I also believe that naming ships after living persons is a bad policy, unless the circumstances are unique (as in the case of Reagan). There are plenty of persons that have not been given this honor.

Carter has a sub named afte... (Below threshold)

Carter has a sub named after him and he's still alive, and was one of the worst Presidents in history. But he had a distingushed career as a bubble head.

I have no problem naming a ship fter Ford, but carriers have a special place in our Navy and their names need to be important. Ford doesn't invoke terror in our enemies like Reagan does. Just be thankful no ones pushing Clinton. (on that note, you will never see a ship named after that man)

Nimitz already has a Class of ship named after him, so naming an individual ship would be pointless.

I'd like to see ships named after important Naval figures, primarily our founding fathers who were insturmental in the creation and support of the Navy.

I dont mind a carrier named... (Below threshold)

I dont mind a carrier named after President Ford, but I d warn the commander to take it easy on those stairs.

I definitely agree that we ... (Below threshold)

I definitely agree that we should not routinely name warships, buildings, etc. after living persons. Reagan was an understandable exception, and it sure must amuse him to watch from above as Democrats and other similar ilk have to fly into an airport named after him.

Instead of Ford, I would suggest the USS Alexander Hamilton, to right a wrong of history that is just now being atoned for in books like Ron Chernow's outstanding biography. Talk about someone who had underrated impact on the very survival of this country by helping to write the Constitution, served as Washingtons Chief of Staff during the War, cited for bravery at Yorktown, and as our first Treasury Secretary, almost singlehandedly created the foundation for our economic miracle.

Of course the Jeffersonians like Bill and Hill would foam at the mouth over this. Yet another good reason.... He also was among the first to see the French for what they are, backstabbing and self righteous weasels.

There is a protocal for nam... (Below threshold)

There is a protocal for naming ships that I've forgotten most of. Battleships were named after states, destroyers after prominent heros and aircraft carriors after battles (Saratoga, Lexington etc)

How presidents got into I don't know but don't like it. Its Politics. The USS Carter!!!

Lets go back to aircratft carriers named after battles or former aircraft carriers. These are warships we're talking about not politcal rallies...

stan25, I do believe the na... (Below threshold)

stan25, I do believe the name Yorktown has been given to a guided missile cruiser.

But you are right. It just doesn't seem right to not have any aircraft carriers with the names Enterprise, Hornet, Lexington or Yorktown, considering how crucial they were in winning the war in the Pacific.

I think "USS Midway" would ... (Below threshold)

I think "USS Midway" would be fitting. It is a) A battle, 2) a victory, 3) happens to be the battle that proved carriers were THE capital ship to fear rather than battleships, 4) and was an all carrier battle from both sides of the conflict.

Serfer62,Can under... (Below threshold)


Can understand your angst, it does seem more convonuluted. I have an alternative suggestion. As capital ships, there aren't many aircraft carriers. Probably less than 2 dozen operational at any one time.

So lets just limit names of AC's to signers of the Declaration of Independence. Over 50 signatures, you can rotate names as AC's are retired out.

Yeah I can hear it, all white dead men, well so what? By signing that document everyone of them put a target on their back. Every man and woman that serves on a AC also end up being a target everyday. Only seems appropriate.

I don't like the idea of na... (Below threshold)

I don't like the idea of naming a warship after a living person.

In WWII carriers were name after famous ships (Enteprise, Hornet, Bonhomme Richard) or battles
(Saratoga, Yorktown, Bunker Hill) but there were exceptions (Shangri-La, Randolph).

I'd like to see the new carrier named in honor of one of those WWII ships; my personal favorite is the Ticonderoga.

SmittyA great batt... (Below threshold)


A great battle. A great ship...

I dont mind a carrier na... (Below threshold)

I dont mind a carrier named after President Ford, but I d warn the commander to take it easy on those stairs.

And no golf practice in foreign ports -- might start a war.

Some trivia about warships:... (Below threshold)
Mark L:

Some trivia about warships:

1. Probably cannot name a carrier "Lexington" as long as CV-16 exists. It was named after the first carrier named Lexington (CV-3), at the request of shipyard workers (mostly female at the time). Later, after CV-16 compiled an outstanding record, they further petitioned that it be the last aircraft carrier named Lexington, and the request was granted. Lexington is still in existenance as a museum ship, so naming a new warship Lexington would be as appropriate as naming a new warship Constitution. It has been done before (sloop-of-war and carrier Constellation). It just isn't quite "right."

2. Ford was the reason the first Shuttle Orbiter was named Enterprise. He had served in carriers in WWII, so when the Trekkie petition crossed his desk asking that this be done, he agreed, wishing to honor the WWII Enterprise, CV-6.

3. It would be more appropriate to name a destroyer after Ford than a carrier. That used to be the tribute given to navy and marine personnel to be honored by a ship. This included admirals (Kidd -- killed at Pearl Harbor, Farragut, Spruance, etc.)

4. Carriers had "battle" names at first because battle cruisers were to be named after famous warships and naval battles. Two of these were converted to aircraft carriers (Saratoga and Lexington), and the tradition was maintained thereafter with purpose built carriers (Ranger -- after John Paul Jones' first command, Yorktown -- revolutionary battle, Hornet and Enterprise -- famous warships of Federal Navy)

5. The first US carrier was named after an individual (CV-1, the Langley, after Samuel Langley, who at the time was still credited by the US government for building the first heavier-than-air craft). This was because it was viewed as auxillary craft. Other examples of auxillaries named after individuals were Wright (seaplane tender) and Fulton and Holland (submarine tenders).

6. One of the justifications for naming the FDR the FDR was athat he has served as Secretary of Navy, as well as President.

7. Theodore Roosevelt was probably the most appropriate President to name an Aircraft Carrier after. He oversaw the creation of the first big American battle fleet, and was a noted naval historian. His history of the Naval War of 1812 is still one of the best books on the subject.

8. Shangri-La was named after the proported starting location of Doolittle Raid. In that sense it is named for a battle. Randolph was the name of a Revolutionary Navy frigate, so it shares the same naming heritage as Enterprise and Hornet. Ironically, the frigate Randolph had a mediocre record, while the most successful American frigate of the Revolution, the Alliance, never had a carrier named after it -- not even a light carrier.

9. The code letters for an aircraft carrier "CV" reveal its scouting origins. "C" is the code for a cruiser -- a scouting warship. "V" comes from the navy code for aViation. "A" was taken for "armored" -- a CA was originally an Armored Cruiser." Carriers were originally envisioned as a means to provide the fleet with long range "eyes," so the battleships could find each other and duke it out.

USS John Wayne... (Below threshold)

USS John Wayne

U.S.S. Flip Flopper ... (Below threshold)
John Kerry:

U.S.S. Flip Flopper

USS HornetIf we ar... (Below threshold)

USS Hornet

If we are going to bring back a name in a time of war, let's bring one back that has some sting to it.

Many moons ago my father se... (Below threshold)
cate s.:

Many moons ago my father served on CVN-65 & I was also hoping that the new carrier would be named the Enterprise. Of course I always liked the USS Ranger too until she was made into razor blades. The Connie has been gone for awhile too but the Gerald Ford---just doesn't cut it.
However, I was sickened when that sub was named after Carter. One of my distant cousins was an 21 y/o on the sub when it was christened. He said they were under orders to be enthusiastic about President Carter's visit and the festivities. However, many of the friends and family members in the crowd were lukewarm at best.

Mark L: Interesting informa... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

Mark L: Interesting information, thanks for sharing that.

I have always thought that ... (Below threshold)

I have always thought that naming CVN-77 for GHW Bush was an error. Call me weird, but naming capital vessels for presidents who lose their last election just doesn't do it for me.

I would like to see CVN-78 named for Chester Nimitz, but I think CVN-65 still has some life left in her, so that's out.

With that in mind, I would put forth the name William Halsey as a past admiral name - even though his name still carries controversy for his actions around Leyte Gulf and afterward.

Other possibilities would be the old WWII carriers - Essex, Saratoga, Lexington, Yorktown, Hornet, Wasp.

But for the love of almighty God, NOT FORD!!!!

Also, I believe Enterpri... (Below threshold)

Also, I believe Enterprise is due to be retired right around the time that -78 goes into service. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

It should be the USS John... (Below threshold)
B's Freak:

It should be the USS John Paul Jones. The crest would contain the words "I have not yet begun to fight" and they'd play "No Quarter" when they sailed into port.

Hmmmm.1. Frankly J... (Below threshold)


1. Frankly John Paul Jones, aside from his famous battle cry, doesn't really excite me as somone deserving of a CV. Really his biggest claim to fame, to my limited knowledge, consisted of somewhat lame raid on England's coastline followed by a public apology for same.

2. To be serious I think I very much prefer naming capital ships after battles rather than politicians and most especially presidents. These ships should represent America as a nation rather than a politician.

Given my experience I would... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Given my experience I wouldn't want to go to war in a Ford. Why not upscale to a Lincoln?

There was no "national nigh... (Below threshold)

There was no "national nightmare of Watergate"

It was all beltway stuff.

Ford deserves a ship -- after he dies. As a West Virginian, I tire of these pre-humonous tributes to politicians

Ford did OK and compared to Carter was a Rushmore-worthy

I think they should pass a ... (Below threshold)

I think they should pass a law that no one will have a ship named after them unless dead for at least 50 years. I want a new Enterprise or Lexington, Hornet, Saratoga, etc.

Someone here said that the ... (Below threshold)
Pat Reilly:

Someone here said that the name LEXINGTON cannot be used because CV-16 is still in existance.

Not so--not even close.

according to the Navy, she is "ex-LEXINGTON" as she was striken from the Naval Vessel Register (NVR). The name can be re-assigned at the Navy's will.

Someone here said that the ... (Below threshold)
Pat Reilly:

Someone here said that the name LEXINGTON cannot be used because CV-16 is still in existance.

Not so--not even close.

according to the Navy, she is "ex-LEXINGTON" as she was striken from the Naval Vessel Register (NVR). The name can be re-assigned at the Navy's will.

Hmmmm.Giv... (Below threshold)


Given my experience I wouldn't want to go to war in a Ford. Why not upscale to a Lincoln?

Fix Or Repair Daily.

Yeah that would be kinda funny.

Have you driven a Ford... l... (Below threshold)
The Exposer:

Have you driven a Ford... lately? :-D






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