Destroyer To Be Named For Aegis System Founder Arrives

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Destroyer To Be Named For Aegis System Founder Arrives

Post by USS ALASKA » Wed Oct 07, 2009 1:03 pm

Philadelphia Inquirer
October 3, 2009
Pg. 1


Destroyer To Be Named For Aegis System Founder Arrives

By Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer

Along the way, as it glided by the Delaware Memorial, Commodore Barry, and Walt Whitman Bridges, it drew stares from people in sail and motor boats.

Some waved from the city riverfront and the deck of the Battleship New Jersey as the Philadelphia Fire Department fireboat shot its water cannon in celebration.

A sleek, state-of-the-art Navy destroyer - with a Philadelphia history - came to town yesterday to begin its service and was gently nudged into place at Penn's Landing by two tugboats.

Next Saturday, it will be commissioned the USS Wayne E. Meyer, the 100th Navy vessel equipped with the Aegis missile-defense system, which Meyer shepherded at the former RCA facility in Moorestown.

The rear admiral - considered the father of Aegis - hoped to share the honor, rarely accorded the living, with his wife, Anna Mae, a Philadelphia native, and his family. But he died Sept. 1 of congestive heart failure at 83.

"It's a bittersweet day," said Anna Mae Meyer, who teared up after watching the destroyer coming up the river. "This was the day my husband hoped for. He said we'd be here hand-in-hand, and we were. He was here in spirit."

At the same time, a sense of excitement spread through crew members as they stood at intervals along the rail of their new ship, looking forward to liberty in the city.

"They're loving it!" Ensign Thomas Bethmann, a 23-year-old former Hatboro resident, said after passing the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the decommissioned aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, where his father served from 1998 to 2000.

Coming into port "is a relief when you've been out to sea," said Ensign Matt Mitchelson, 26, of San Diego. "There will be lots of festivities this week. Many will see their families and loved ones."

Public tours of the ship will be offered tomorrow, Monday, Wednesday, and Oct. 12. Its commissioning next Saturday will be attended by about 6,000 people who obtained tickets.

Yesterday, the destroyer's journey to Philadelphia began in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was met by a pilot launch that banged across choppy waters with Meyer's stepdaughter, Anna Seixas, 33, of Cherry Hill.

She said she knew she'd have to climb a rope ladder up the side of the ship. "But they didn't tell me it would be moving," she said and laughed.

Seixas spent much of the next seven hours on the bridge as the ship crossed the Delaware Bay, then sliced its way up the Delaware River, passing the Salem nuclear power plant and several towns, including Wilmington, Chester and Gloucester City.

During the voyage, the 280 crew members hurried to their jobs through passageways that honeycomb the ship.

"This is the best, finest ship in the fleet," said Bethmann, a Naval Academy graduate. "Top to bottom, it has the newest of everything."

The ship has a small supermarket, a dining hall with four flat-screen TVs, a library, chapel, and training room, as well as a gym and other exercise areas.

But the Aegis system and the bristling missile launchers on deck make it a high-tech wonder with the ability to knock down enemy missiles and go on the offensive.

This ship "is very special," said Petty Officer First Class Darren Hume, 39, of Sinking Spring, Berks County. "Being a fire-control man in a system on a ship named after the creator of the system is something I will always remember."

Hume is one of the crew members who would unleash the ship's power in response to an enemy threat. "You can't find the words," he said. "You have to live and breathe it . . . this ship was built to put warheads in foreheads."

Hume briefly met Meyer last October at the christening of the ship that bears the admiral's name. "What struck me is that this man was incredibly intelligent," he said. "Age took its toll on his body but not on his mind."

The combat information center of the ship is the heart of Aegis. It is a room full of screens, keyboards, and crackling radios where sailors can monitor threats to the ship.

Yesterday, Seaman Kati Murray, 20, of Audubon, Iowa, was watching the traffic around the ship, using the radar and cameras to keep track of nearby pleasure boats.

"This is my first ship," she said. "Not too many younger sailors get an opportunity to be on a ship like this."

The destroyer is to be commissioned in Philadelphia at Meyer's request. He cited the Aegis' development at the former RCA plant, now operated by Lockheed Martin, which has continued to improve the system.

"This is an honor my husband truly earned," Anne Mae Meyer said. "It was something the two of us looked forward to sharing. It wasn't to be."

But Meyer said her husband was "there in spirit. He was a great patriot and a great naval officer. He dedicated his life to the Navy and the United States."

Yesterday, Meyer's dream came true. His ship had come in.

"It was an excellent day," Anna Seixas said. "I was thrilled. I feel my father's memory has been honored. He would have been very moved."