Union Tribune

March 11, 2004

San Diegans want a new Navy ship named after city


WASHINGTON Although San Diego is home to the second-largest concentration of Navy vessels in the world, there is no ship bearing the city's name.

A number of San Diegans are working to change that, and their effort could be rewarded shortly when Navy Secretary Gordon England decides on the name for the next of the San Antonio class of amphibious transport dock ships.

England's spokesman, Capt. Kevin Winsing, said the secretary has been receiving letters, phone calls and e-mail messages from San Diegans asking him to name a new ship for their city. England will consider those requests when he makes his decision on the next group of ships to be named, Winsing said.

Sometime this spring, England will pick names for several of the Arleigh Burke class of guided-missile destroyers and for the sixth of the amphibious transport ships. But the destroyers have been named for famous men in naval history, and a city name would be an aberration.

Following the example of the first ship in the class, however, the new amphibious ships all have city names: New Orleans, Mesa Verde, Green Bay and New York. Naming the next ship for San Diego would be doubly appropriate because it probably would be based there.

Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Escondido, has drafted a letter to be signed by San Diego County's congressional delegation asking England to name the next amphibious transport dock ship for their community.

The letter notes that San Diego has been associated with the Navy and Marine Corps for more than 100 years and argues that the city is worthy of having a ship named for it "in light of its long and strong relationship with our armed forces, its future importance to our military and country," and the history of ships with that name.

Three Navy ships have been named San Diego, including an armored cruiser sunk by a German U-boat in World War I and a light cruiser that won 15 battle stars in World War II and was the first major combatant to enter Tokyo Bay for Japan's surrender. The last Navy vessel named San Diego is a former combat stores ship retired in 1993 and now rusting away at the reserve fleet facility in Philadelphia.

San Diego civic, political and business leaders worked last year to get that ship removed from the Navy's roster so the name would be available for a new vessel.

Cunningham's letter said naming an amphibious ship for San Diego would "make the right statement about the history the Navy and Marine Corps team shares with San Diego."

The 12 San Antonio-class ships are being built at the Northrop Grumman shipyards in Pascagoula, Miss., and Gulfport, La. At 684 feet long and 25,500 tons, they are larger and much improved over the current class of amphibious transport ships, which they will replace. With a crew of 360, each will carry up to 800 Marines, their combat equipment and supplies, plus helicopters and various types of landing craft to get them ashore.

San Diego should not feel too bad about not having a ship named for it. Norfolk, Va., which is home to more Navy ships but fewer Marines, has not had a ship named for it since 1970.