The USS Wichita isn’t just a ship, it’s a symbol representing the pride and values of the city it’s named for, says Sen. Jerry Moran.
Moran is in Florida and on Saturday will give the keynote address at the commissioning ceremony for the Wichita, a littoral combat ship designed to fight or perform humanitarian missions in shallow coastal waters. The ceremony is the final step in bringing the ship into Naval service.
“It’s an honor to represent Kansas and particularly Wichita at a ceremony that dedicates a ship to the well being of our country, to its safety and security,” Moran said. “And tie the values and nature of Wichita, Kansas, to the service of the Navy, to highlight the importance of our national defense and the values that the people of Wichita and the people of Kansas have in regards to patriotism and service.”
This isn’t the kind of thing that happens often.
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The last Navy ship named for a city in Kansas is the USS Topeka, a nuclear attack submarine commissioned in 1989 and still in service.
Two other Navy ships are named after Kansas individuals, the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Frank E. Petersen, a recently launched destroyer named for the first African-American Marine Corps aviator, who was from Topeka.
“I see this as a once-in a lifetime experience,” Moran said of helping commission the Wichita. “It’s gratifying to me to be able to do this, to be able to look back years from now and watch the story of this ship.
“But I always recognize that the only reason I have this opportunity is because I represent Kansans, and so I know that what I’m doing tomorrow morning is not a reflection of me, but a reflection of our state, the tribute that the Navy wants to pay to Wichita.”
Moran said he’s already touched base in Florida with Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and other local dignitaries and Navy enthusiasts who have made the trip for the celebration.
Temperatures are in the 60s under partly cloudy skies in Jacksonville, where the new ship will be homeported at the Mayport Naval Station.
“It’s not warm, but my wife is on her way to Kansas City to watch the Chiefs play, where it’s supposed to be like 28 degrees, snow, freezing rain,” Moran said. “I know I have the better end of this deal, for lots of reasons.”
Although Wichita is about as landlocked as it’s possible to be on the North American continent, the city does have significant ties with the Navy, Moran said.
Part of his speech will highlight work to enhance seaborne aviation by Wichita aircraft manufacturers and Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, he said.
“While we don’t build ships in Wichita, we do build airplanes, and the Navy is our customer,” he said.
Wichitans who couldn’t make it to Florida are invited to share in the commissioning as a group experience at the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center, 225 W. Douglas, Saturday morning.
The ceremony will be shown live on the big screen in the Concert Hall starting at 9 a.m. Doors open at 8:30.
Those who want to watch from home can call up a Navy livestream at www.navy.mil/ah_online/live/ah-live.asp. That link will go live about 8:55 a.m., five minutes before the event begins.