BATH, Maine – The Halloween weekend was rife with solemnity, pomp, and circumstance, as the future USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115) was officially christened during a ceremony at Bath Iron Works shipyard Oct. 31. Its bulk looming over the thousands in attendance, the 9,250-ton warship’s grandeur was surpassed only by that of its namesake, Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta, whose life and legacy loomed larger than any amount of steel ever could. Peralta was killed while clearing houses during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004, when he pulled a live grenade under his body in order to save the lives of his fellow Marines.
The ship’s christening was preceded on Friday by the Mast Stepping ceremony, a seafaring tradition wherein the ship’s crew places coins and other tokens in a case to be welded under the ship’s mast. The custom is thought to bring good luck and dates back to the ancient Romans, who believed that a fare was needed to cross the river Styx into the afterlife. Storing coins in the mast ensured the crew’s toll would be paid should the ship meet her end at sea.
Rosa Peralta, the ship’s sponsor and Sgt. Peralta’s mother, joined Cmdr. Brian Ribota, the ship’s prospective commanding officer, in placing coins contributed by the Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, and Commandant of the Marine Corps, among others. Also included was the guidon of Peralta’s 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, as well as the battalion’s challenge coin at the time of his death in 2004.
It was perhaps fitting that thousands gathered on El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), a day in Mexican culture devoted to remembrance of the deceased, in honor of a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Having emigrated from Mexico when he was thirteen, Peralta is the first Mexican-born namesake of a U.S. naval warship.
Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller was the christening ceremony’s principal speaker. In his address, Neller quoted Peralta’s former commanding officer when he said, “He [Peralta] believed more about the goodness of America than most Americans, to the point of fighting and sacrificing everything for what America stands for.”
On Sunday, Rafael Peralta was launched into the Kennebec River for the first time during an evolution known as “float-off.” During float-off, the ship is moved into a mobile dry dock which is then flooded until the ship is freely afloat.
As the newly christened warship sits nested at her new berth along the Kennebec, she will continue preparations for commissioning in 2017. It is then, Neller said, “the spirit of Rafael Peralta will be transferred to the men and women who will make this ship become more than just… a ship, but an actual living entity, totally committed to their mission, to each other, and to the defense of our nation.”