No Sun Drop at this christening

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Submarines have always intrigued me.

Maybe it’s the thought of their sleek design, or maybe it’s the awesome firepower held within such a small vessel.

Of my favorite movies of all time, several center around submarines. Topping my list among those submarine themes is “The Hunt for Red October” n a 1990 flick about a Russian sub captain (portrayed by Sean Connery) who wants to defect to the United States. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge Connery fan, dating back to the days when he was the original “007.”

“Crimson Tide” starring Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington is another all-time favorite. Filmed in 1995, it centers around an American sub that may have to fire nuclear weapons on Russia and the ensuing battle onboard between Hackman and Washington on their respective thoughts of possibly beginning World War III.

Other “sub” favorites (and I’m showing my age here) are “The Enemy Below” (1957), starring Robert Mitchum and Curd Jurgens, “Torpedo Run” (1958) n featuring Glenn Ford and Ernest Borgnine, and “Run Silent Run Deep” (1958) starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.

With those thoughts in mind, I didn’t hesitate at an opportunity to witness history this past Saturday. I was invited, as a member of the media, to cover the christening of the “North Carolina” n the latest Virginia-class submarine that will be added to the U.S. Navy fleet. It was “history” for me due to the fact that I’ve never before witnessed a christening; well, not a real one anyway. I’m not counting the time me and my cousin Bunky Johnson christened my dad’s homemade wooden fishing boat with a bottle of Sun Drop.

We (the media) were treated like royalty at the “North Carolina” christening. My personal thanks to Jennifer Dellapenta, Manager of Media Relations, and her staff at Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipyard for their professionalism and courtesy.

We (media) were driven to the christening site (well over one mile from our pre-designated parking area) and escorted to the media tower, a two-story, open-air deck positioned approximately 50 feet away and directly in front of the speaker’s stand and the submarine. I was able to snap off plenty of photos (two of which were used on the front page of Tuesday’s edition).

If there was a letdown, it was the fact that no tours of the sub’s interior were offered. I wanted so badly to go aboard, stand at the command center and scream, “dive, dive, dive,” or “load torpedo tubes three and four and open outer doors.”

Thankfully, because there were no tours, I was saved the embarrassment of making a fool of myself.

However, to fill that void, I was privy to gain additional knowledge about the U.S. Navy and its long-standing traditions.

I learned there have been three other U.S. Navy ships christened the “North Carolina” as well as one by the Confederate States Navy.

The first “USS North Carolina” was a 74-gun ship outfitted in the Norfolk Navy Yard. Considered by many as the most powerful naval vessel of its time, the ship was launched on Sept. 7, 1820 and served until 1867.

“USS North Carolina” number two was a Tennessee-class armored cruiser, built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. (now Northrop Grumman). It was launched Oct. 6, 1906 and served the Navy until 1921.

The third “USS North Carolina” was built in New York and became the first of the Navy’s modern battleships. Launched on June 13, 1940, the “North Carolina” received 12 battle stars during action in World War II. Some of those who served aboard the “USS North Carolina” (now a floating memorial in Wilmington) were present at this past Saturday’s sub christening. These proud veterans were rightfully saluted for their service to our nation.

Other than the new sub, the only other seafaring vessel to bear the name of our great state was the “CSS North Carolina.” Built by Berry & Brothers in Wilmington, this iron-clad sloop was commissioned by the Confederate Navy in 1863. Structurally weak, the ship was unable to cross the bar and remained in the Cape Fear River until September of 1864 when it developed a leak and sank.

The christening ceremony itself is rich in history. It dates back 4,000 years where, during the days of the Vikings, christenings were performed by the spilling of blood and human sacrifice.

Thank goodness that tradition does not continue today, but another does as it’s standard practice all over the world that women christen ships. Such was the case on Saturday in Newport News where Linda Anne Rich Bowman, wife of retired Navy Admiral and former director of naval nuclear propulsion Frank L. “Skip” Bowman, christened the “North Carolina.” She broke a bottle American sparkling wine over the bow area of the sub.

I wish God speed to the “North Carolina” and her crew. Make our state proud, but more importantly stand guard over the waters of the world and protect the freedom we enjoy as U.S. citizens.