The past week saw a battered old greyhound sortie out to find her sealegs again. The early Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) sailed from Pascagoula to conduct “comprehensive at-sea testing, marking a significant step in her return to warfighting readiness.”
Damaged during a collision in 2017 that claimed the lives of seven of her Sailors, Fitzgerald has spent the past two years on a long march back to the fleet and is almost there.
“Since we launched the ship this past April our efforts have focused on restoring ship systems, conducting pier-side tests and readying the ship for sea,” said RADM Tom Anderson, NAVSEA’s director of surface ship maintenance and modernization and commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center in a statement. “The government and industry team has been working hand-in-hand on this exceptionally complex effort, with a common purpose of returning Fitzgerald to sea and ultimately back to the fleet.”
While in Pascagoula a few days ago, I spotted this familiar old girl in the shallow waters of the muddy Pascagoula River along Ingalls SB’s West Bank.
Note her Union Jack on the bow, which was only recently raised a couple of weeks ago.
Commissioned at Bath in 1995, USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) carries the nickname of “Fightin’ Fitz” and recently made international news when, on 17 June 2017, the destroyer was involved in a collision some 50 miles off Japan with the 40,000-ton Philippine-flagged container ship MV ACX Crystal. The encounter damaged the ship, killed seven of her crew were killed– lost in a flooded berthing compartment in the predawn collision– and left a number seriously injured. With her hull open to the sea, swift and effective damage control by her crew saved the vessel.
Fitz has since been in Pascagoula for the past 18 months undergoing a $400~ million repair/refit.
Three weeks ago, at morning colors on June 17, 2019, her crew unveiled a commemorative flag honoring the Sailors who died in a collision in the Sea of Japan two years ago. In addition, the National Ensign and Union Jack were raised on the ship for the first time since November 2017.
From the Navy’s presser:
Designed by current crewmembers, the flag memorializes their seven fallen shipmates. The flag is blue with “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP” emblazoned above the names of the seven Sailors. The motto is a common Navy phrase, but all Fitzgerald Sailors embodied that spirit on June 17, 2017, when they fought significant flooding and structural damage following the collision.
“I am proud of this flag and proud of our shipmates who helped design it, as it is a product of respect and professionalism that symbolizes their great service and sacrifice,” said CDR Garrett Miller, Fitzgerald commanding officer, who unfurled the commemorative flag for the first time.
“Fitzgerald’s crew designed this flag from scratch as a way to embody those shipmates we lost,” said Cmdr. Scott Wilbur, Fitzgerald’s executive officer. “It will be flown every year on 17 June to honor them and to never forget their sacrifice. The current crew continues to live out that motto while bringing the ship back to the Fleet.”
Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, answers questions about the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) during a press conference at Fleet Activities Yokosuka.
The list of the fallen are from the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, the West Coast and the Midwest. Going on their names, they encompass numerous ethic backgrounds, all part of the national melting pot. One is a teenager, a striker. Another is a 37-year old PO1, likely well into his second decade of service. There are combat rates, CIC personnel, clerks.
All are American, and volunteered for the service, showing the persistent dangers of sea duty even in today’s environment– reportedly stricken in a horrific collision and resulting flooding of their berthing spaces while in the slumber of the predawn hours.
The U.S. Navy Identifies 7 Deceased Fitzgerald Sailors
The remains of seven Sailors previously reported missing were located in flooded berthing compartments, after divers gained access to the spaces, June 18, that were damaged when USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal.
The deceased are:
– Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia
– Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California
– Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut
– Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas
– Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California
– Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland
– Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio