(MOBILE PRESS-REGISTER (AL) 18 APR 10) ... Kaija Wilkinson
PASCAGOULA, Miss. -- A ship Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding President Mike Petters described as the most technologically complex in the U.S. Navy formally became the William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) in a christening ceremony that brought more than 1,000 people -- including top Navy officials and former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot -- to the shipyard on a sunny spring morning.
Named for a Vietnam War hero described by friends and family as selfless, brilliant and down-to-earth, the DDG 110 destroyer has an Aegis combat system, gas-turbine propulsion and Tomahawk missiles.
Like the man it's named for, the ship can be both gentle and strong. DDG 110 is capable of delivering humanitarian aid, but also of "picking off three pirate (ships) with just three bullets," the Hon. Juan M. Garcia III, assistant secretary of the Navy, told the crowd.
It's the 60th ship of its class and the 28th built in Pascagoula by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. Petters described the event as a "family affair," since it brought together members of Lawrence's family and the Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding family, which includes about 40,000 employees nationwide and about 11,500 in Pascagoula.
Typically, a ship has one sponsor, a woman chosen to christen it. But in this case, the Navy chose three women important to Lawrence: his widow, Diane Wilcox Lawrence, and his daughters, Dr. Laurie Macpherson Lawrence and Capt. Wendy B. Lawrence.
Before the three broke ceremonial bottles of champagne on a rail on the ship's bow, Perot, a close friend of Lawrence's, took the podium to talk about the ship's namesake. Perot described Lawrence as a role model to everyone who knew him.
That includes 67-year-old Bill Bailey, a native of Kosciusko and Ole Miss graduate who came from his home in Anderson, S.C., to attend the event. Bailey was the junior officer who was with Lawrence when his Phantom F-4B two-seater plane was shot down in June of 1967. The men were separated, and ended up spending years as prisoners.
Bailey said that even though typically there was a vast social gulf between senior and junior officers, Lawrence was always a "sailor's admiral."
"I think the world of Bill Lawrence," said Bailey, fingering a cap bearing the name of Fighting Squadron 143, affectionately known as "Pukin' Dog" because its logo, a Griffin, looks like one. Perot said he can sum up Lawrence in several words and phrases: "Patriot, guardian of freedom, hero, fearless, brilliant, modest, humble, a man of absolute integrity, (and) and a great leader."
Perot ticked off Lawrence's accomplishments. An outstanding athlete, Lawrence went on to become the first naval officer to fly twice the speed of sound. But he's perhaps most remembered for enduring six years as a prisoner of war.
Rear Adm. William Landay, U.S. Navy Program Executive Officer of Ships, said that Lawrence fought "every hour of every day with his only weapons: the strength of his mind, his indomitable spirit and his sustaining support of his fellow prisoners."
In naming DDG 110 for Lawrence, we are reminded, Landay said, that freedom isn't free. "It comes at a terrible price, and it is our duty and our destiny to preserve it for future generations."
The ship is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in the fourth quarter of 2010, when it will become the USS William P. Lawrence.