Navy commissions destroyer honoring Coronado's Stockdale
By Matthew T. Hall Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:16 p.m. April 18, 2009
PORT HUENEME, Calif. — The U.S. Navy commissioned its newest guided-missile destroyer Saturday in a ceremony honoring Coronado's own Vice Adm. James Stockdale, the ship's namesake.
Four thousand folding chairs stood on the dock at the Naval Base Ventura County near Oxnard, in front of a gray behemoth there to be christened the USS Stockdale, in remembrance of one of the Navy's most highly decorated officers.
Most of those seats were filled before the hour-long ceremony began under a bright, cloudless sky at 11 a.m. Attendees reserved their loudest applause for the dozens of veterans and prisoners of war on hand, a group that included four Medal of Honor recipients.
Former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who chose Stockdale as his running mate in 1992, called his late friend a man of steel, a moniker made for Superman but fitting for someone who now has a ship named after him.
Stockdale was “tougher than steel when he was challenged on his principles” as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, Perot said. “He did not bend, he did not break.”
Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, later urged the crew of the Stockdale to “remember that name, wear your uniforms and execute your missions with honor.”
One of Stockdale's granddaughters drew cheers when she uttered the ceremonial words: “Officers and crew of the USS Stockdale, man our ship and bring her to life.”
With that, a parade of white-uniformed sailors sprinted single-file onboard the destroyer, which will soon head back to San Diego, where it arrived in late March after being built in Maine. Within moments, the sailors were all positioned at points on the ship, hands clasped behind their backs.
Smoke erupted from the ship and four planes zoomed overhead as a horn blew. The ceremony concluded with a private tour of the ship for the veterans and prisoners of war who attended with wives and guests.
The group strode through narrow corridors, past white painted walls and across pristine floors. Some commented they had never seen a ship so spotless.
Bill Stark is a retired Navy captain who lives in Coronado, is friends with the Stockdales and also was a prisoner of war. He said the day brought him full circle.
“And this is the best part of the whole circle, to see this magnificent ship with (Stockdale's) name on it,” Stark said. “The role of this ship is similar to his role in life. It's at the tip of the spear, as he was the tip of the spear in the P.O.W. community.
“He's the reason a lot of us are here today.”
Stockdale died at age 81 at home in Coronado in 2005, surrounded by his wife, Sybil, and four grown sons. A fighter pilot who flew 201 carrier-based missions, he was the highest-ranking naval officer captured during the Vietnam War, spending 7½ grueling years in captivity after being shot down.
Stockdale received the Medal of Honor in 1976. His 26 combat decorations include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts and four Silver Stars.
The USS Stockdale's motto is “Return with honor.”
H/T FlyNavy on Twitter