USS Ted Stevens sponsors proud to continue family legacy of service

The destroyer known as DDG 128 has now been christened the USS Ted Stevens.
Published: Aug. 19, 2023 at 8:20 PM AKDT
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (KTUU) - On Saturday, the vessel known until now as hull number DDG 128 officially became the USS Ted Stevens when three members of the late senator’s family took part in christening the U.S. Navy’s newest destroyer in the name of the longtime senator of Alaska.

While the tradition of christening ships is centuries old, the practice of cracking a bottle of Champagne against the hull to confer a vessel’s naming or launch dates back to only 1891, when Queen Victoria launched a Royal Navy cruiser with the smashing of a Champagne bottle against its hull.

Three members of the late Sen. Ted Stevens’ family took part in the same tradition Saturday — the widow Catherine Ann Stevens and his daughters Susan Stevens Covich and Lily Irene Becker — and joined the ranks of more than 300 women who have taken part in the special U.S. Navy ceremony.

The Honorable Sean O’Keefe, a former Stevens staffer who later served as the 69th Secretary of the Navy and 10th Administrator of NASA, explained the purpose of designating sponsors at the christening ceremony.

“Every single christening always observes that it is Navy folklore that a ship christening assures a vessel will assume the personality and character of her sponsor,” O’Keefe said. “The DDG 128 will be blessed with the characteristics of three extraordinary women who have personal traits that will assure that the ship and her crew will stand out as exemplary performers in the United States Navy and serve the nation with great distinction.”

Although they don’t sail with the crew on the vessel itself, sponsors are considered to be essential to the life of a ship. A ship and its crew are said to take on the attributes of its sponsor.

“Each of the co-sponsors, Catherine Stevens, Susan Covich and Lily Becker, manifest the strength of dedication to family, community, allegiance to the state of Alaska and the nation — and they conduct themselves with generosity, integrity, principle and compassion,” O’Keefe said. “They have a deep pride in the exceptional public service and dedication to the Navy demonstrated by the ship’s namesake, the honorable Ted Stevens.”

Sponsors for ships are selected by the Secretary of the Navy and are always female — although young men may be designated as attendants and young women maids. According to the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy, most women who sponsor ships form a warm and lasting relationship with them — an affiliation that is rewarding to both.

Lily Becker, the youngest daughter of the late senator, showed great appreciation for being selected as sponsor for the ship bearing her father’s name.

“My mother, sister and I are deeply honored to sponsor this ship,” Becker said. “I think we’ve come to recognize that as sponsors of the ship, it’s a lifetime commitment to the ship and to the crew — as it is now and will evolve — that we have a relationship with them, help them to understand the spirit of the man whose name will be on the ship.”

Becker also shared her excitement that the USS Ted Stevens was the same class of destroyer as the one named for her father’s longtime friend across the aisle, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawai’i.

Becker recalled the moment she learned her father would, like Inouye, be honored with a Navy vessel bearing his name.

“We were overwhelmed. There could be no more fitting tribute to my father and his friend Sen. Inouye,” Becker said. “Dad and Sen. Inouye met in the Senate and formed a bond so close that they called each other ‘brother’”.

The badge of the USS Ted Stevens, the world's most powerful Navy destroyer.
The badge of the USS Ted Stevens, the world's most powerful Navy destroyer.(US Navy)

Prior to the christening, sponsors of the USS Ted Stevens had the opportunity to collaborate with the prospective commanding officer, Capt. Mary Katey Hays, on the design of the ship’s badge. The badge functions as the official symbol of the ship and is painted on the side of the vessel and stitched into patches that adorn crew uniforms.

The oval-shaped badge of the USS Ted Stevens — the shape of all Navy destroyer badges — is emblazoned with the name of the vessel and its hull number surrounding a shield against a field of pale blue. The shield is divided into two sections of crimson and navy blue by a white outline of three peaks, with two quills and an ink jar — both elements of the seal of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate — above the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the service awards given to Stevens for service in World War II. A banner bearing the ship’s motto “Lead With Courage” stretches around the shield, with a Navy sword and cutlass crossed behind it.

Near the top of the badge sits a bald eagle, symbolizing Stevens’ lifetime of dedication to the United States as a citizen, public servant, and military member.

Above the eagle, higher than all the other symbols, sits the familiar eight stars of gold on a field of blue that symbolize the great state of Alaska.

For Becker, the ship already carries the attributes modeled by her father.

“This ship is nimble, powerful, lethal — those are all words I might be able to use to describe him. He was so passionate, so passionate about Alaska and its people, about the country, about the military. And he was a fighter. But at the same time, he was a thoughtful listener, was very kind, and loved getting to know the people of Alaska,” Becker said.

Capt. Hays is eager to be the first to take the helm of the vessel and expressed gratitude for the Stevens family following the christening ceremony.

“It was really special listening to stories about Sen. Stevens, especially his WWII service,” Hays said. “I loved hearing about his personality, about things you can’t really Google and read about, things that are going to be meaningful to the crew, such as his tenacity, his adventurous spirit, his courage — those things are the qualities that we want to emulate as crew.”

Becker, agreeing with the captain, believes her father would be pleased by having a ship launched in his memory.

“I know he’s looking down on this and I know he’s going to send this ship out with courage and determination and all the things they’re going to need out there,” Becker said.

Work will continue on the USS Ted Stevens for at least another year. The ship will remain at the shipyard where it was built before being staffed by a small crew of sailors at the beginning of 2024. The USS Ted Stevens will then sail to the Navy’s largest base in Norfolk, Virg. for additional sea trials prior to commission.