USS San Diego Formally Commissioned

Ceremony To Be Held At Navy Pier, Near Midway Museum

The fourth Navy ship to be named after San Diego was formally commissioned Saturday in a ceremony held at Navy Pier, adjacent to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum.

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The amphibious transport dock USS San Diego was the first with the moniker of "America's Finest City" to be stationed here. The ship bears Navy number LPD-22.

"With today's ceremony, the Navy will commission the fourth ship to bear the name USS San Diego. From what I've been told, the ship being commissioned today is the most advanced amphibious ship in the world," Mayor Jerry Sanders said. He said the city's relationship with the Navy stretched back to 1921, when a Navy repair base was established.

Sanders presented the ship's officers and the crew with the key to the city, "in honor of welcoming America's finest ship to America's Finest City."

The commissioning ceremony is a naval tradition and historic event for a ship, marking the moment a new craft is placed in active service in the fleet.

Adm. Mark Ferguson, the vice chief of naval operations, said San Diego had been a great home to the United States Navy. He said expectations for the ship were high.

"The USS San Diego joins a Navy that has never been more in demand, never more needed and essential to ensure that our nation retains command of the seas," Ferguson said.

The 684-foot long San Diego, the sixth ship in the San Antonio class, had its keel laid on May 23, 2007, at the Huntington Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. It was christened June 12, 2010, and delivered to the Navy Dec. 19, 2011.

The ship's sponsor is Linda Winter, wife of former Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter. She gave the command to "Man our ship and bring her to life."

The San Antonio class ship is designed to carry landing craft, fighting vehicles, helicopters and personnel. The ships have more capacity than their predecessors and use "stealth'' technology that includes the shape of the hull and its superstructure. It is being called the most advanced amphibious ship in the world.

"Look at the size of it!" said veteran George Horton. "How would you like to paint it? My God."

Horton, 88, has seen the ships grow over the years. Horton joined the Navy in 1942 and served on an older USS San Diego during World War II, just after his 17th birthday.

"Oh, this ship is so magnificent," Horton said through tears. "[I] waited 60 years for this."

Horton's heart seemed to swell with pride as he looked up at the new USS San Diego.

"I just want to see this go to sea and let them know that whenever they release the anchor or let the lines go that my shipmates and I are going with them," Horton said. "They treat me like a member of the ship and it's really touching."

Veteran Cliff Rayl served on the ship with Horton and was sitting near him during Saturday's ceremony.

"This ship to the crew member is your mother," Rayl said. "You care for her, you dress her, you wash her, you behave [and] put her to bed at night. She takes care of you."

He added, "It's part of me and part of my heart. I was in the crew of the old San Diego, and it's a thing of love."

Maj. Gen. Ronald Bailey, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, said the USS San Diego could carry 699 Marines, with the surge capacity of 800.

"That's 800 rifles, ladies and gentlemen," said Bailey. "Every Marine is a rifleman who will carry a machine gun, and every enemy of our nation becomes a target."

Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, commander of Naval Surface Forces, said the San Diego, the fourth ship to bear the name, was the only ship in the U.S. fleet to be homeported in its namesake city.

Veterans, active-duty military members and even aspiring ones came together to salute the ship and pray for the safety the next round of sailors and Marines.

Previous USS San Diegoes included: -- the original, a cruiser launched in 1907, was renamed San Diego in 1914, and sunk in 1918 in the Atlantic Ocean following explosions believed to have been caused by German mines or torpedoes from an enemy submarine – making it the only major U.S. warship lost in World War I; -- a light cruiser commissioned in 1942 that became the first major allied ship to enter Tokyo Bay at the end of World War II, and was the second most-decorated U.S. Navy vessel of that conflict; -- a Navy cargo ship that served between 1968 and 1997.

Sailors from the cargo version of the USS San Diego had a reunion in conjunction with the commissioning of its namesake successor, and planned to be at the ceremony.

The USS San Diego will go through training and certification before it can deploy in 2014. It should be in service through at least 2052.

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