The USS St. Louis, the Navy’s newest combat ship, was commissioned Saturday with a St. Louisan doing the honors.
Barbara Broadhurst Taylor took a central role at a small ceremony at the ship’s home base in Mayport, Fla. Taylor had marked the start of the ship’s construction in May 2017 at a shipyard in Wisconsin, and she broke the traditional bottle of champagne at the christening it in December 2018.
According to the Navy, “sponsor” is the title given to a prominent citizen chosen for each new vessel. The sponsor is involved in special events throughout the life of the ship and remains in contact with the ship’s crew.
In recent history, all Navy ship sponsors have been civilian women. The sponsorship is “presumably to bestow good luck and divine protection over the seagoing vessel and all that sail aboard,” the Navy says.
The sponsor is technically considered a permanent member of the ship’s crew and is expected to give a part of her personality to the ship, as well as advocate for its continued service and well-being. For passenger ships the sponsor is called a godmother.
“I asked them if they knew they were inviting an Air Force brat to do this, and they just laughed,” she said in a radio interview on KMOX.
Usually, a commissioning is a big party involving several days of celebration and a crowd of about 5,000, The COVID-19 coronovirus slammed those plans. Taylor and a handful of Navy bigshots handled the job.
Taylor said at the ceremony: “To witness the skill and commitment of the officers and crew of USS St. Louis as they brought our magnificent ship to life has been one of the greatest honors of my life. All of us in the great city of St. Louis are proud to be part of our ship’s historic legacy, and extend our appreciation and lasting friendship to the crew and their families. Your patriotism and dedication to preserving peace and freedom inspires us. May God bless our ship and all who sail her.”
Taylor told the crew she was awed by the ship’s beauty, technology, speed and versatility.
“May she be a safe and comfortable home at sea as you work together to keep us safe and fulfill her motto, gateway to freedom.”
Taylor’s husband, Enterprise Holdings executive chairman Andy Taylor, got to present the new ship’s telescope to its commanders.
Fellow St. Louisan and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Williams was the principal speaker on Saturday.
“I want to express the Navy’s deep appreciation to the Taylor family,” Williams said. “Much of what they do is anonymous, but believe me when I say they are the preeminent philanthropic family of the St. Louis community and a donor to Navy causes.”
The USS St. Louis is 388 feet long with a top speed of about 40 knots (46 mph). It has 70 crew members and will be stationed at the Mayport naval station. The ship is a littoral combat vessel, designed for surface and submarine combat in coastal waters.
Six previous Navy ships have been called St. Louis. The first was a war sloop launched in 1828. Then there were a Civil War gunboat, a troop ship in the 1898 Spanish-American War, a World War I cruiser, a World War II light cruiser, and a cargo ship decommissioned in 1991.