The newest Gerald Ford class carrier? Why the JFK 2.0

Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy on board the PT-109 circa 1943.

The U.S. Navy announced Sunday that the next nuclear aircraft carrier built will be the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79.) The Gerald R. Ford-class carrier will be the second ship to bear the name of the 35th president. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, served as a commander of the patrol boat PT-109 during World War II. The first USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) was decommissioned in 2007 after 40 years of service.

This news of the name announcement bears some significance to me because I had several friends who served on the first JFK. As a matter of fact, were it not for a friend’s dissuasion I might have served on the first Kennedy instead of what was at the time, the Navy’s oldest destroyer on active duty, the USS Agerholm.

Hearing tales from my friend Bob McCarthy of having to wait forever in line for liberty from the mammoth Kennedy, which had a crew of more than 5,000 officers and men, or any carrier for that matter, made me want to sail on something smaller. The reason I remotely entertained the idea of going to the “Big John” was that when I decided to seek sea duty I had run into my first division officer at our base’s Navy Exchange. The lieutenant was personnel officer on the JFK at the time and I had mentioned to the lieutenant that I was wanting to transfer to sea duty.  I could have ended up spending all of my Navy career except for boot camp in Mississippi had I not have put in for a ship

The lieutenant, who was in on leave, told me that if I wanted he could get me transferred to work with him. Funny, I also had a former division officer who was a chief warrant officer 4, who told me I could come work for him in his Seabee unit at Great Lakes, Ill. I told the LT that I really wouldn’t feel comfortable on a ship that was bigger than the hometown in which I was raised. I told Mr. D that I wasn’t very disposed to the winters of which I had heard of at Great Lakes, the place where I also went to boot camp. I felt flattered having two former officers appreciating my skills enough to ask me to work for them, but I decided to roll the dice and things came out just fine in the end.

I likewise am happy that the Navy has decided to name the new carrier again as a John F. Kennedy. His story as skipper of PT-109 and of his heroics after his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer off the Solomon Islands is well-known in American history. Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps medal for his valor as well as a Purple Heart for his injuries.

As president he was also an inspiring figure, even to someone from the East Texas Pineywoods who was only 8 years old when Kennedy’s life was cut short that long-ago day in Dallas.

The first JFK was the second carrier named for a president. The first was the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1947. Since that time, in 1968, eight more carriers have been named for presidents: Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Washington, Truman, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Ford. One nuclear carrier was named for World War II Pacific leader Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz. Two other carriers were named for longtime House Armed Services leader Carl Vinson and long-serving Senate Armed Services chair John C. Stennis.

One might debate the greatness of some these ships’ namesakes, but they all had in one way or another particular meaning to the Navy some more so than others. But as a Memorial Day thought, I think another JFK is a good name choice, especially more so than a Franklin Pierce, a Warren G. Harding or Calvin Coolidge.  And although others as well as myself might not agree, there may someday be a Richard Nixon (who was a World War II Navy officer), a LBJ (another Navy officer) and a George W. Bush (who landed on a carrier for an ill-advised celebration of the end of Iraq combat otherwise known as “Mission Accomplished.”

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