BATH — The family of President Lyndon B. Johnson, joined by Maine’s congressional delegation, Bath Iron Works workers and hundreds of Mainers, honored the late president’s legacy Saturday at the christening of his namesake stealth destroyer at the shipyard.

Named after the 36th president of the United States, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson is the third and final Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer built at BIW.

“It’s a great honor to be naming this ship after my father,” said Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, who sponsored the ship along with her sister, Luci Baines Johnson.

“Daddy was a proud Navy man … and on his lapel for the rest of his life he wore a rosette in service to the Navy. I can assure you that he has a big grin on his face now. A grin of pride, memory and gratitude. My father always delighted in having something named for him. I am an example,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience. “He would tease his friends and staff that if they named their baby after him, he would present them with a heifer calf.”

Robb said she thought about it but decided to bring only a small remembrance of that.

“So, I have a little longhorn here for Captain Gray to have in whatever place he thinks is the most appropriate on the ship.”

The ship’s crest pays homage to Johnson, including scales representing his landmark legislative achievement, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and an astronaut’s glove representing Johnson’s support for NASA’s Apollo space program. Johnson was also an advocate for a bundle of domestic programs to address poverty that he called “the Great Society,” which is reflected in the ship’s motto, “Defensor ex societas magna,” which translates to “In defense of great society.”

Robb said she remembers walking from her family ranch to the cemetery in 1957, “and we looked up to the sky looking for Sputnik.”

At that time, a lot of people said, “You can keep your eyes on the stars but we will keep our feet on the ground,” she said. “But I recognize … these shipbuilders and this Navy realizes with Daddy, that we need to look forward.”

Robb recalled the words of John Quincy Adams: America “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is a well-wisher of freedom and independence for all.”

“We christen this ship in that spirit, not seeking to destroy, conquer or dominate other nations, but rather to defend our own safety and the safety of other nations,” she said. “This ship goes to its mission not just as part of an American vessel, not just as a part of our nation’s stealth defense. It goes out as a vessel prepared to support and represent the strength, the purpose and vitality of alliances such as NATO. It goes out in support of important ideas – the idea of a community of free nations.”

Vice Adm. Michael Moran, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy, said the ship will serve as a multi-mission platform capable of operating as an integral part of naval forces, whenever and wherever required. He characterized the ship as one of the most capable war-fighting assets the nation has to offer.

“Much like President Johnson helped lead our nation with innovative and lasting solutions during some of the nation’s most challenging times, this third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer will also bring new and innovative versatility, mission capability and vitality to the fleet that will enable our sailors and Marines to more effectively protect the freedoms and our way of life,” Moran said. “The Zumwalt-class is the largest, most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world, and will be in the forefront of our nation’s sea power for decades to come.”

Dirk Lesko, president of Bath Iron Works, said the shipyard’s promise that “Bath built is best built” is a responsibility its shipbuilders take seriously.

Lesko said the shipyard is experiencing the most significant challenge in the composition of its workforce in three decades. Still, last year, it delivered two ships, the first time the shipyard had delivered two ships 14 weeks apart since 1995.

“That ship continues to reflect the strongest ship-over-ship improvement on any BIW program,” Lesko said. “That’s something we can all be proud of.”

The 15,761-ton, 610-foot USS Lyndon B. Johnson’s homeport will be in San Diego, California.

The Zumwalt-class ships are highly advanced stealth destroyers, featuring a wave-piercing tumblehome hull, an all-electric propulsion system, a small radar profile and a slew of other technologies. Even though the ships are roughly 100 feet longer than the Bath-built Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, they are designed to operate with about half the crew.

While the Navy originally wanted to build 32 Zumwalts, it ultimately cut its order to just three ships, all of which were built at Bath Iron Works. The Navy has had difficulty determining how to incorporate the three destroyers into the fleet, and in 2017 it changed their mission from operating close to shore and supporting ground troops to engaging in ship-to-ship combat. The Navy requested $89.7 million in its 2019 budget to convert the destroyers for their new mission.

The Lyndon B. Johnson is a departure from the first two Zumwalt-class destroyers in that it features a steel deckhouse, as opposed to the composite deckhouse used in the previous ships. The lighter composites used in the first two ships were built by Bath Iron Works’ primary competitor, Huntington Ingalls Industries in Mississippi, and then barged north to be added to the rest of the ship.

Since the steel deckhouse is cheaper than the composite alternative, the Navy decided to have the final deckhouse for the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson built out of steel. In 2013, the Navy awarded Bath Iron Works a $212 million contract to build the deckhouse.

Lesko said in addition to the Lyndon B. Johnson, Bath Iron Works has five other destroyers under construction. It is working to complete $200 million in investment across the shipyard to maintain and modernize facilities so they will be safer, more reliable and more efficient.

Darcie Moore can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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