As with many other things, the procedures and practices involved in Navy ship naming are as much, if not more, products of evolution and tradition than of legislation. The Secretary can rely on many sources to help him reach his decisions. Each year, the Navy History and Heritage Command (NHHC) compiles primary and alternate ship name recommendations and forwards these to the Chief of Naval Operations by way of the chain of command. These recommendations are the result of research into the history of the Navy and by suggestions submitted by service members, Navy veterans, and the public. Ship name source records at NHHC reflect the wide variety of name sources that have been used in the past, particularly since World War I. Ship name recommendations are conditioned by such factors as the name categories for ship types now being built, as approved by the Secretary of the Navy; the distribution of geographic names of ships of the fleet; names borne by previous ships that distinguished themselves in service; names recommended by individuals and groups; and names of naval leaders, national figures, and deceased members of the Navy and Marine Corps who have been honored for heroism in war or for extraordinary achievement in peace.
In its final form, after consideration at the various levels of command, the Chief of Naval Operations signs the memorandum recommending names for the current year’s building program and sends it to the Secretary of the Navy. The Secretary considers these nominations, along with others he receives, as well as his own thoughts in this matter. At appropriate times, he selects names for specific ships and announces them.
While there is no set time for assigning a name, it is customarily done before the ship is christened. The ship’s sponsor ─ the person who will christen the ship ─ is also selected and invited by the Secretary. In the case of ships named for individuals, an effort is made to identify the eldest living direct female descendant of that individual to perform the role of ship’s sponsor. For ships with other name sources, it is customary to honor the wives of senior naval officers or public officials.
The following are the remarks made by the ship’s sponsor for the USS Pittsburgh on the day of the deactivation ceremony
Dr. Carol H. Sawyer
USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720)
U.S. Naval Undersea Museum
Keyport, Washington, January 17, 2020
“When you have a story to tell, it is always good to begin at the beginning:
Picture this with me: We are in Groton, Connecticut, at Electric Boat Company, the shipbuilding company. It is December 8, 1984—35 years ago.
It is a cold day, crisply cold, but there is a bright blue sky, sunny, with bunting—lots of bunting!– snapping in the breeze off the river, diamonds of sunlight are sparkling on the water.
The shiny new submarine is poised at the edge of the river.
The ship’s personnel, in dress blue uniforms, are in formation on the top of the boat, along with family and friends.
As the ceremony progressed, the time came for me to speak the traditional words:
“IN THE NAME OF THE UNITED STATES, I CHRISTEN THEE PITTSBURGH. MAY GOD BLESS HER AND ALL WHO SAIL IN HER.”
Then I swung and smashed the bottle against the bow of the ship! There was a beautiful arcing splash of champagne and the submarine slid gracefully down the ways and into the water.
We cheered! And the Navy band burst out in music to capture our joy.
And up on top of the submarine, John Van Huyck from the Pittsburgh Navy League smashed a second bottle. Because this submarine, USS Pittsburgh, was double christened with a bottle of Iron City beer.
Most of you, almost all of you, were not in Groton that day.
George Sawyer was the principal speaker that bright morning In his remarks George spoke of “this great and good United States of America.”
THIS GREAT AND GOOD UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Think with me what that means.
Think with me about the week before you traveled here to celebrate and to salute this fine ship and her good people.
Think with me about how those words “this great and good United States of America” are experienced in your life, in the days just past.
Think with me . . .
A quite typical day for me begins with checking the newspaper. Depending on the issue of the day, I might leave a message for my Congresswoman. My day certainly will include one or more family connections, by text or e-mail—perhaps a video or picture will be included, or an in-person call. There will be some work to do. I’m inclined to open my computer to explore ideas for travel, perhaps a trip to Italy. If it is Tuesday, I can walk two blocks for an organ concert at the Cathedral. Then, lunch with a homemade soup. If I am out in the afternoon in San Diego’s heavy two o’clock afternoon traffic, I might tune into National Public Radio. In the evening, I am likely to join friends for theatre, perhaps Shakespeare in the park
That is an almost typical day for me: it includes news, political engagement, a chance to do Good Work, family connection, an opportunity to travel, music, theatre . . .
Your own almost typical day may look a bit different. After all, each one of us constructs a meaningful life with choices and priorities.
Whatever the differences in your almost typical day
this is certain:
For millions of people in the hundreds of countries around the globe, the key elements of my day, of your day—-what we experience, how we live–for those millions of people, much of that is not possible.
Today, I know my life is good. I live a life that illustrates what George spoke of all those years ago: a life within “this great and good United States of America.”
Now, taking an oath TO SUPPORT AND DEFEND; To bear TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE, leaving home to serve, putting on a uniform, making the sacrifice of time away from people we love, even a willingness to give life for country—that is not my individual story.
But it has been part of my FAMILY story— through generations my family has served in the military: grandfathers, uncles, husband, and even today a son and grandsons. We are grateful that we have that story, often through their letters and diaries which share the lifelong impact of their service experiences.
So, what does it mean, instead, to have a very indirect military experience, to sponsor a ship of the navy, this ship?
SSN 720, USS Pittsburgh
What does it mean to have my own small place within what has been appropriately called The USS Pittsburgh Family?
Family: people who are connected because we are centered in and we live out shared values.
What does it mean to be a ship sponsor?
It does not mean ONLY that I smashed a bottle, though that was quite special and very exciting!
It means that every day for 35 years, I have embodied the gratitude of the American people. In my very PERSON I have literally lived our gratitude for the commitment, the service, the professionalism, the sacrifice and the patriotism I have witnessed. And that is not gratitude just for those who sailed USS Pittsburgh, but also gratitude for those who supported her at home and in countless organizations and locations around the world.
In one person, my one person, I embody the gratitude of a nation.
Pittsburgh began her career as a state-of-the-art warship. I knew what that meant. But on the day she fired Tomahawk missiles in war, I wept. I was driving home from university teaching, with the car radio on. I believed the ship was in the Mediterranean. The news that the war had begun came over the radio.
If you have driven on a southern California freeway, you know that it is not wise to cry as you drive. But I had always wanted to think of “my” submarine as a very mobile fence keeping us safe from the world’s dangers, and a ship highly skilled at spy work. I could know the ship’s power, and its mission, but hope the weapons would not be fired in war. So I cried.
In Groton on a cold but sunny day, we called out a blessing, not just for the ship, but a blessing for all who would sail in that ship.
There are persons here today who did sail in USS Pittsburgh throughout her years of active duty.
There are men here who held the extraordinary responsibility of command on this submarine—command centered in trust.
There are many others who came aboard to provide the varied and complex types of expertise needed. All of those men—each of them– had a commitment to a vessel of awesome technical power, a vessel with a significant and sobering role. These men ensured that such a ship, this ship, our ship, could function in the role it was designed and commissioned to undertake.
And there are others here who partnered those officers and men and provided meaningful support to families when the ship was away, under water, fulfilling its mission.
So I bring today a message to the current and former crew, officers and men, the supporting families:
We know that ours are lives are made possible in George Sawyer’s words years ago: We live our lives in a good and great nation.
This is a day for recognition and for appreciation, gratitude for our collective great and good lives—
If you serve now or have served on USS Pittsburgh, under water or waiting at home, please stand now. Stand to be recognized and thanked . . . stand while all of us now express that gratitude.”
Thank you Carol for your many selfless contributions over the past thirty five years.
You have been the model for all future Ship’s Sponsors