The next U.S. Navy cargo ship will be named after civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, the Secretary of the Navy officially announced Wednesday afternoon at a Barrio Logan ceremony.
The news was met with pride by members of the Chavez family who were on hand at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard for the announcement, but it was not without controversy as it drew fire from a Southern California congressman.
Navy secretary Ray Mabus stood alongside members of the Chavez family and the current president of the United Farm Workers of America to acknowledge the naming of the USNS Cesar Chavez, which will be in service sometime next year.
"Cesar Chavez inspired young Americans to do what is right and what is necessary to protect our freedoms and our country," Mabus said. "The Cesar Chavez will sail hundreds of thousands of miles, and will bring support and assistance to thousands upon thousands of people. His example will live on in this great ship."
His widow Helen Chavez said her husband knew that there were many Cesar Chavezes involved in the farmworker rights movement, but their names were largely unknown. So with that, the family said they accepted naming of the USNS Cesar Chavez on behalf of all Latinos who helped build America and served their country.
Chavez' son Paul was also at the ceremony and said his father's story was much like the story of other immigrant who came to America looking for a better life and found a sense of pride and patriotism.
"My dad was like many Latinos and African Americans from his generation who returned home in the years following World War II determined to see that the country for which they sacrificed lived up to its promise as a beacon to the nations of equality and freedom," Paul Chavez said.
Wednesday's ceremony was free of controversy, but there are those who object to naming the ship after the UFW leader. A Republican California congressman Duncan Hunter publicly opposes the idea.
"Naming a ship after Cesar Chavez goes right along with other recent decisions by the Navy that appear to be more about making a political statement than upholding the Navy's history and tradition," said Hunter.
Hunter sent a letter Wednesday to the secretary of the Navy that says because the service appears committed to the Chavez decision it should find an opportunity to name another ship for Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was nominated for a Medal of Honor for smothering a grenade with his body.
Chavez joined the Navy in 1946 and served two years. Two of his cousins were killed fighting in WWII. He died in 1993 at the age of 66.
The USNS Cesar Chavez is a designated T-AKE 14 ship and will be the 14th of the Lewis and Clark class supply ship being built by General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego. It is designed to operate independently for extended periods at sea and can carry two helicopters and their crews.
The ship is 689 feet long.