The Neglected Treasure State

Well, the Navy has announced the names of the next three Virginia-class submarines. They’re being named after states, and SSN-780 through SSN-782 will be the USS Missouri, the USS California, and the USS Mississippi.

All three names were worn by World War II batttleships. The California was mauled at Pearl Harbor, while the Mississippi was transferred from the Atlantic after the attack. Both ships served nobly in the Pacific throughout the war. Afterwards, the California was placed in reserve and eventually scrapped; the Mississippi spent about a decade as a new-gun testbed and training ship before she, too, was sent to the scrap heap.

Both names were revived in the 1970’s as nuclear powered cruisers. The Mississippi served for just over 20 years, the California almost 30, before both were decommissioned in the late 1990’s.

The Missouri, on the other hand, was the very last battleship built by the United States. Her deck hosted the official surrender of the Japanese empire, and she was the only one of her class (the mighty Iowa-class) that was not retired after the war — President Truman, that proud Missourian, would not let her go off active duty. She served off Korea, and was retired in 1955. Then, in 1984, she and her three sisters were revived by the Reagan administration and served valiantly once again, the Mighty Mo even taking part in the first Gulf War, before being retired again. In 1993 she became a museum ship, and is now at anchor in Pearl Harbor, near the wreck and memorial of the USS Arizona. The two dreadnoughts serve as bookends for the US involvement in World War II — the Arizona, destroyed in the Pearl Harbor attack, and the Missouri, where the Japanese signed the instruments of surrender.

(Here are two remarkable photographs of the Missouri. The first is seconds before she was hit by a Kamikaze, the second shows her with the Arizona wreck and memorial.)

And while I am proud to see those noble names revived, I am yet again discouraged. Of the 48 states in the Union by the end of World War II, 47 had been honored with the names of battleships. Since then, Alaska and Hawaii have joined, and been honored with submarines. And several have been honored more than once.

That accounts for 49 states. Who’s been getting the shaft for almost a century now? Who’s been the Butte of the contempt of Congress and the Navy?


It’s even become a staple of fiction. Need the name of a US Navy warship, but don’t want to use a real one? Call it the “Montana.”

I don’t know if it’s just some sort of benign neglect, or some kind of odd conspiracy, but I’d really like to see the fine people of Montana get their due, the same recognition and honor that the rest of us states have enjoyed. It’s considered bad form to rename a ship once it’s been given a name (although it has been done on numerous occasions), so I’d like to see Congress reserve the name of a future submarine (say, SSN-783) for the Big Sky state.

It’s only fair.

Author’s note: yes, I am repeating myself a bit. I don’t care. Montana deserves a ship of its own, dammit.

Update: Dang it, I forgot to give Murdoc credit for this story. Sorry, chum…
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