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.