January 15, 2004

by Michael Richards

In April 1999, the United States Navy took the unusual step of naming one of their fleet for a non-American. The newest Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided-missile destroyer was named for the WWII British Prime Minister.

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“There were tears in the eyes of many tough old men.”

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They came from around the world, the people at Norfolk march 10th, many of them wearing caps and badges with the names of ships, wars and generations past. Emotions overflowing, they watched as the crew of USS Winston S. Churchill ran aboard and brought her to life. “It was the most moving experience I can remember,” wrote Richard Raffauf of Philadelphia. “There were tears in the eyes of many tough old men.”

One hundred fifty member of The Churchill Center and Societies were among thousands of guests at the commissioning of the American warship bearing an English worthy’s name: proof positive that the Anglo-American “special relationship” lives on. As Lt. Angus Essenhigh RN set the first watch, being handed the “Long Glass” by his father, Britain’s First Sea Lord, one could only imagine Churchill himself, cigar glowing brightly, viewing the proceedings with satisfaction.

Perhaps he was. We recalled his words at Harvard in 1943: “Twice in my lifetime the long arm of destiny has reached across the oceans and involved the entire life and manhood of the United States….The long arm reaches out remorselessly, and everyone’s existence, environment, and outlook undergo a swift and irresistible change….The price of greatness is responsibility.”

On the following pages, in eight articles ordered according to the eight bells of a naval watch, we bring you remembrances of that impressive day.

In Norfolk were our Patron, Lady Soames, our entire Board of Governors, and six of our eight Trustees: Winston Churchill, Celia Sandys, Jack Kemp, Paul Robinson, Chris Matthews and Richard Langworth. Commanding Officer Michael Franken had kindly invited this party to lunch and a board meeting aboard ship, and at noon Sunday we boarded DDG81 for a sumptuous selection of Sir Winston’s favorite dishes in the officers’ and petty officers’ wardrooms.

The time, energy and expense our Governors and Trustees put in on behalf of the Center and Societies certainly justified such a marvelous invitation. Still, nobody could believe where we were. Chief Gary Bowles and his team had prepared a meal worthy of Chartwell’s Mrs. Landemare; we were “Bowled” over..

Following the ceremonies, The Churchill Center organized a dinner for some 130 attending members and friends. CC Trustee Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball” on MSNBC and CNBC, himself preparing for the Churchill Lecture five weeks later, was the speaker. Celia Sandys introduced him with a distinctive testimonial: “Being interviewed by Chris Matthews is like getting a drink of water from a fire hydrant.” Armed with six key words he had scrawled on a scrap of paper, our speaker held us for a 40 minute appreciation of Churchill’s greatness and never-give-in philosophy.

Mr. Matthews particularly admires Churchill’s willingness to say things he knew to be unpopular. “I’ve often asked my young audiences if there was anyone willing to stand up and say something in which they believed, but knew to be unpopular with the majority of those present. In the beginning, there were few takers; today there are more. To me, this is a good thing.”

Official ceremonies ended with a prayer service Sunday morning aboard USS Wisconsin, the sole Iowa-class battleship still in commission, a veteran of World War II and naval actions as recent as the Gulf War. She is now a floating exhibit, though still in readiness. There was a moving speech by Admiral William Crowe, and the Royal Marine band played “Amazing Grace” in honor of those who served and did not return.

What struck everyone on this grand and moving occasion was the enthusiasm and morale of officers and crew, and the degree of their interest in the ship’s namesake. Memberships are offered at half price to crew members; there are already seven individual members, and twenty five copies of everything we produce are sent to the ship. The name and fame of the “Former Naval Person” is well and truly launched again on the high seas.

After the flags and bunting are put away we must never forget, as an officer reminded us, that the primary mission of DDG81 is to fight and win wars. All hope that this capacity will never be needed. Yet her mission hasn’t changed from the days when her namesake exhorted his countrymen in Biblical phrases:

“Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict, for it is far better to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altars. As the will of God is in heaven, even so let it be.”

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