Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., has seen a lot in his time, but on Wednesday he added something brand new: a Navy ship named after him. “I was deeply moved today,” he said.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus named the first ship of the next generation of fleet replenishment oilers USNS John Lewis and other ships in the class will be named after fellow civil right activists.
“A few weeks ago, the Secretary of the Navy called the office and set up an appointment and I greeted him and met with him,” Lewis says. “He starts talking about naming ships and we started talking about the civil rights movement, what happened in the deep South. He went onto say, Congressman, I have this idea, I want to name a ship in your honor.”
Lewis said he didn’t know a ship could be named after a current member of Congress and “Mabus said, ‘I’m the Secretary of the Navy and I can do it, please let us do it.’ I teared up, I really cried, and he teared up,” he recalls.
The ship-naming ceremony was in the Cannon House Office Building on Wednesday. The Georgia congressman repeated what he said at the ceremony. “When I was growing up in rural Alabama, I never learned to swim because we couldn’t go to the public swimming facilities; now it is amazing to have a big ship that will be able to travel all around the world named after you,” he said.
The ship will be operated by Military Sealift Command and provide underway replenishment of fuel and stores to Navy ships at sea, the Defense Department said in a statement. It will also provide jet fuel for aircrafts.
A contract will be given this summer and construction is expected to start in 2018.
The other ships in the crew have not been named yet and Lewis says, “I don’t know if they will want me to inform them or give them some ideas about the naming.”
In June, the Navy christened a ship after former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who survived the 2011 Tucson supermarket shooting. Former presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Gerald R. Ford also have ships named after them.