An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was named after retired Lt. John Finn, pictured, the U.S. Navy announced Feb. 15. Finn received the Medal of Honor in recognition of heroism and distinguished service during the Japanese attack. (MCC David Rush / Navy)
Three military heroes — two of whom received the Medal of Honor for their actions — and two Midwestern cities were honored Feb. 15 when U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced a batch of new ship names.
The names of John Finn, Ralph Johnson and Rafael Peralta will grace three new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, while new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) will be named Sioux City and Omaha.
The names revert to more traditional choices for Navy ships, and are likely to avoid the controversy that accompanied Friday’s announcement that a new LCS would be named for wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was little known prior to being attacked in a January 2011 assassination attempt that killed six and wounded 13 more people.
Before the choice of Giffords, most LCS ships had been named for small or medium-sized cities. The Giffords announcement has drawn widespread criticism as an inappropriate choice for a naval ship.
Destroyer names traditionally are chosen for heroes and significant leaders, and the three new choices, drawn from conflicts in World War II, Vietnam and Iraq, fit those criteria.
John Finn, who lived to 100 before passing away in May 2010, received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Finn, then 32, set up a machine gun on the field at Kaneohe Bay naval air station on Oahu and fired at attacking aircraft over the next two hours, throughout the remainder of the attack.
Despite receiving as many as 21 wounds, Finn remained on duty at the airfield until long after dark, standing down about 18 hours after the Japanese attack began. He was promoted as an officer while recovering from his wounds and retired in 1956 as a lieutenant.
Finn reportedly is the only aviation ordnanceman to receive the nation’s highest military honor, which was personally presented by Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Chester Nimitz. At his death, Finn was the oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor and the last Pearl Harbor survivor so honored.
Private First Class Ralph Johnson was a 19-year-old Marine who served only a few weeks as a reconnaissance scout in Vietnam before he was killed March 5, 1968. Johnson was a member of a 15-man reconnaissance patrol manning an observation post overlooking the Quan Duc Duc Valley during Operation Rock, a move deep into Communist-held territory.
According to the official Marine Corps citation, “they were attacked by a platoon-sized hostile force employing automatic weapons, satchel charges and hand grenades. Suddenly, a hand grenade landed in the three-man fighting hole occupied by Private Johnson and two fellow Marines. Realizing the inherent danger to his two comrades, he shouted a warning and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the explosive device.” Johnson was killed instantly.
His act, the citation said, “saved the life of one Marine at the cost of his own and undoubtedly prevented the enemy from penetrating his sector of the patrol’s perimeter.”
Staff Sgt. Rafael Peralta also lost his life while covering a grenade with his body to save fellow Marines. On Nov. 15, 2004, he was a member of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, engaged in urban combat in Fallujah, Iraq. Shot in the head, Peralta, 25, grabbed an enemy grenade that landed on floor of a house and covered the explosion with his body, shielding his comrades.
But questions have persisted about the precise sequence of events during those chaotic moments, and a 2005 pathology report noted that the head wound would have been “instantly fatal. [Peralta] could not have executed any meaningful actions.”
Although the Navy awarded Peralta the Navy Cross, its second-highest honor, the Marine’s family and a number of supporters, including several members of Congress, have unsuccessfully petitioned for the award of the Medal of Honor. A provision in the 2012 defense act asked the Navy to name a ship for the Marine.
“Finn, Johnson and Peralta have all been recognized with some of our nation’s highest awards,” Mabus said in a statement released Feb 15. “I want to ensure their service and sacrifice will be known by today’s sailors and Marines and honored for several decades to come by a new generation of Americans and people from around the world who will come in contact with these ships.”
As for the LCS names, Mabus said he “chose the name for our two new littoral combat ships after Midwestern cities from America's heartland, to honor the patriotic, hard-working citizens of Sioux City, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska, for their support of and contributions to the military.”
Work already has begun on each of the three destroyers, which are of the Flight IIA variant of the DDG 51 class.
The John Finn (DDG 113), funded in 2010, is under construction at the Ingalls Shipbuilding shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., under a contract awarded June 15, 2011. Delivery of the ship is scheduled for late 2015.
The Ralph Johnson (DDG 114), was funded in 2011 and also is being built at Ingalls Shipbuilding under a contract awarded Sept. 26. The ship is expected to be delivered in late 2016.
The Rafael Peralta (DDG 115), funded in 2011, is under construction at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works yard in Bath, Maine, under a Sept. 26 construction contract.
Two other destroyers under construction at Bath Iron Works have yet to receive names. The Arleigh Burke-class DDG 116 contract was awarded on Sept. 26, while advance work on Zumwalt-class DDG 1002 is under way.
The Sioux City (LCS 11) will be a Freedom-class ship built at Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wis. Omaha (LCS 12) will be built at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., as an Independence-class ship.
The two ships, along with the Little Rock (LCS 9) and Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), were funded in 2012. Contracts for at least the first pair are expected to be awarded in a few weeks.
Staff Writer Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.