Thursday, September 29, 2011

USS Spruance

A brand new Navy ship has sailed in to Key West amid much fanfare. In the arcane language of Navy numbering the guided missile destroyer is labeled DDG 111.


I spent a confused twenty minutes trying to unravel the druidical mysteries of the Navy numbering system in Wikipedia and all I did find was that the first two letters are repeated as though to give the class emphasis.


Thus DD is a destroyer and G presumably because it is armed with guided missiles. And this one point two billion dollar machine is come to Key West to celebrate it's birth, or 'commissioning.'


Saturday evening I and four thousand of my closest strangers will be gathered somewhere on the Navy Pier while they go through the ritual and pomp of the start of the new ship's career. In so much of daily life I find people mix up routine and ritual in the order of their day. A ritual is more than the routine of making coffee first thing, a ritual is following a script and imbuing an occasion with importance.


Key West is all atwitter with the ritual of commissioning and on a weekend when the city mercifully has no public money-making activity scheduled the commissioning will make a pleasant ritualistic variation. The community will pause and contemplate en masse, before getting back to the important business of business.


The ship is named for a man who has been described as one of the greatest Admirals in American naval history. His name was not DDG111, but Raymond Spruance, born in Baltimore in 1886 and dying in California in 1969. He commanded the US side in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. He beat the superior Japanese forces and was roundly criticized for not chasing their Navy after the battle, though historians studying the tactics came to agree with Spruance's thoughtful prudence.


Those days seem far away when one considers how huge were the battleships and cruisers of the time and how lithe is this modest little destroyer that packs a disproportionate missile punch.


The Outer Mole is now home, temporarily to the Navy's newest ship yet the inner basin is still home to yesterdays heroes, coastguard cutters of another era now relegated to museum status tied up at the former Navy waterfront.


The little gray Mohawk served in World War Two escorting Atlantic convoys.


The white Ingham cutter newer and bigger is still miles behind the Spruance in size and sophistication.


They've got the bunting ready for Saturday and then who knows what they will do with this miracle of modern technology.


Out on patrol no doubt. We hear Cuba is preparing to drill for oil in the Straits of Florida using a Spanish company and amazingly enough the embargo is still uppermost in the minds of the maniacs who write policy for this country. So instead of talking to Cuba and preparing to deal with a spill the US Congress is proposing legislation to penalize any oil company doing business with Cuba. The Monroe Doctrine in 21st century guise.


We look back and the world appears to have been a simpler place. It's not true of course but we admire the modest little ships of yesteryear and what conclusions are we supposed to draw? That ships like these that ruled the waves could only have ruled waves more easily dominated than the seas of today.


The miracle perhaps is that they chose to commission the ship in Key West thus giving us cause to celebrate this new symbol of old power in a rapidly changing world.


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