What Happens to Vessels Named After Heroes?
In less than a month, Donald Trump will become President of the United States, Elaine Chao will replace Anthony Foxx at the Department of Transportation and General Mattis will stride through the Pentagon corridors as Secretary of Defense. As a former Obama administration political appointee, it's my hope that the three of them rapidly reverse a shameful eight-year policy that has allowed vessels named after Medal of Honor recipients to be destroyed in foreign facilities.
Like most of you, I served on active duty. I was a Coast Guard officer and from day one I was inundated with manuals and standard operating procedures. There is one for everything – how to dress and how to salute. If you want to get married, there is also special one inch binder on catering, music, and flowers.
The same format is followed when a ship is christened or renamed. The military, per standard operating procedures, sends out invitations to the family members of those who the ships have been named after and invites senior military officers to help commemorate the event.
One such ceremony was held October 21, 1997 when the Navy renamed a vessel after Captain Steven L. Bennett, an Air Force pilot who died in Vietnam in 1972 and was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor. The M/V Capt. Steven L. Bennett was used to preposition military goods and assist with training exercises for many years. Sadly, Secretary of Defense Carter and Secretary of Transportation Foxx, the individuals responsible for determining where the vessel would be recycled, allowed the Bennett to be destroyed in India in 2016.
The Bennett isn't the only Medal of Honor vessel to meet this fate. The M/V SSG Edward A. Carter and the M/V LTC John U.D. Page were also taken apart by foreign workers in 2015 and 2016. SSG Carter received the Medal of Honor for actions taken during World War II; LTC Page posthumously received the Medal of Honor for actions he took during the Korean War. Yet neither of these vessels were dismantled in our country by American workers.
The SOP for a military burial is precise. These honors are provided because the veteran served the country and now it is the country's turn to recognize the veteran's sacrifices. These procedures provide structure and guidance in a turbulent world.
Such formal burial ceremonies stand in stark contrast to the hazardous destruction of vessels named after Medal of Honor recipients along the beaches of India. There the vessel is rammed onto the shoreline and Indian workers, lacking the safety equipment used by American workers, scramble aboard with torches. Metal bits and pieces are dropped into the water, destroying the environment and harming the health of nearby communities.
It's time to update the manuals and SOPs for disposing of obsolete Medal of Honor vessels employed by the U.S. government. Secretary Chao and Secretary Mattis should require these vessels be disposed of by American workers. These vessels are named for American heroes, crewed by American mariners, and at the end of their lives, they should be taken apart by those who stand and salute the American flag.
This article appears as a guest editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Maritime Executive.
K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a lobbyist for EMR USA and former U.S. Maritime Administration Chief Counsel.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.