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October 10, 2003
Navy sponsors lift morale of Sailors, Marines
by Capt. Kevin Wensing
|Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corporation
Texas Senator, sponsor of San Antonio (LPD 17), christens one of the Navy's newest ships in New Orleans.
Secretary of the Navy PAO
With a powerful swing, a bottle cracks and a shower of champagne drenches the ship, its sponsor and all around her. The christening ceremony is the modern version of a traditional blessing dating back more than 3,000 years. Today first ladies like Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush have sponsored the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Texas (SSN 775) respectively.
Elected leaders, Navy wives and hundreds of loved ones of ships named after American heroes, their fathers, mothers, husbands or ancestors also serve as sponsors. Navy sponsors have a long and distinguished role in our naval heritage.
Margaret Dalton, sponsor of USS Seawolf (SSN 21) and wife of former Navy Secretary John Dalton, is the current president of the Society of Sponsors. Mrs. Dalton said, "It's a great honor to sponsor our Navy's ships and the women who are privileged to do so become a part of the crew and its spirit. We care about our ships and their crews very much and do all we can to help them and their families." The Society of Sponsors was founded in 1909 under the auspices of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Over the centuries christening ceremonies have changed significantly. Priests in ancient Babylon and Rome performed a range of activities from sprinkling "holy" water to sacrificing animals in what were initially religious events. Today champagne is used to mark these special occasions.
The prominence of sponsors has been evident from the first known christening of an American warship but in that time men normally served in this role. Capt. James Sever became the first known American sponsor in 1797 when USS Constitution joined the fleet. Since that time, thousands of men and women have become members of the Navy and Marine Corps family by sponsoring ships and the crews that sail them.
Currently all sponsors are women. Until 1846, however, this was a rare sight. In August of that year, Lavinia Fanning Watson became the sponsor of the USS Germantown.
Having women serve as sponsors has its roots in ancient Greece. As journeys lengthened, Sailors began to see their ships as sources of security and nourishment. This situation created a motherly relationship between crews and their ships. Since 19th century mariners believed that a sponsor's spirit passed into a ship as it was christened, they decided to ask women to become sponsors - to become the spirit of their nourishment.
Regardless of the mythological origins, the service and dedication of today's sponsors is a testament to this legend. Sponsors regularly stay in contact via e-mail with crewmembers. They help with homecomings and other special events. And through advocacy and attention, they look after the welfare of their Sailors and Marines. The spirit of so many sponsors is alive in the ships and crews they serve.
Sponsors also play a role in the commissioning ceremonies. Linda Bowman, who sponsored the patrol craft USS Tornado (PC 14 ) and USS North Carolina (SSN 777), said it's great to spend time getting to know the crew and their families. During the commissioning ceremony when the time comes to say "man our ship and bring her to life" you really feel like part of the crew. "It's a privilege to represent our Navy and a wonderful experience," she added.
The Navy and Marine Corps have indeed been fortunate to enjoy the service of so many outstanding sponsors.
Editor's note: Members of the Society of Sponsors attended Naval Academy Chapel services Sunday.