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Rep. John Lewis Attends Keel Laying for Class of Navy Ships Named for Him

May 14, 2019
Press Release

SAN DIEGO—Yesterday Rep John Lewis attended a keel laying ceremony for the first in a class of Navy ships named after him.  There are 20 ships in the John Lewis class, which will all be Fleet Replenishment Oilers.  The first of the class, the USNS John Lewis, is projected for completion in April of 2020.   The rest of the John Lewis class of ships will be built over the next 10 years and will stay in service for 40 years, serving 85,000 service men and women and 11 air craft carriers. Yesterday’s ceremony took place at the General Dynamics-National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego.

The laying of the keel is the Navy’s way of acknowledging the beginning of a ship’s construction.  At that stage some initial components of the ship have already been built, and the keel laying ceremony involves joining those components together.  At that time John Lewis’s initials were also etched into a ceremonial steel plate to be displayed on the ship, along with those of Ms. Alfre Woodard, the ship’s sponsor. 

The ship sponsor is customarily the honoree’s wife.  Due to the passing of his devoted wife Lillian in 2012, Rep. Lewis asked actress Alfre Woodard to serve as sponsor.  She is an award-winning talent who has faithfully and lovingly depicted the characters and struggles of civil rights and social justice throughout her celebrated career.  Consistent with Rep. Lewis’s commitment to non-violence, the USNS John Lewis is not a class of combat vessels.  They will serve the vital role of replenishing oil for ships at sea.  They are part of the Navy’s Combat Logistics Force and will be operated by the Navy Sealift Command.  They are the first class of ships named after a civil rights leader and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“I was almost moved to tears,” said Rep. Lewis, “to meet and greet the many hard working, committed and dedicated men and women from General Dynamics who are building the USNS John Lewis.”  Building the ship will require the work of about 3000 craftsmen, welders, and builders. 

“For the U.S. Navy and former Secretary Ray Mabus to see fit to honor me in this way is unreal and almost unimaginable,” Lewis continued. “I only try to do what is fair, what is right, and what is just and get in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.  This class of ships pays tribute to the powerful contribution each and every participant in the struggle for civil rights and social justice has made to help build a true democracy in America.”

"We're honored to have Representative Lewis and Ms. Woodard with us today as we lay the foundation for recapitalizing our nation's critical fuel-replenishment-at-sea capabilities," said Mike Kosar, Support Ships, Boats and Craft program manager, Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships. "These ships are steadfast, reliable and allow our warships to defend our freedoms for which Representative Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting."

Video coverage from KUSI-TV in San Diego.  The ceremony was covered by most network affiliates in San Diego.  Check your San Diego affiliate for clips.  Other video clips will be loaded our website as available.  ####