In a teary-eyed ceremony Friday, the U.S. Navy honored the former congresswoman from Arizona by adding her name to its latest littoral combat ship, USS Gabrielle Giffords.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, his voice cracking, proudly made the announcement in front of a large crowd of Navy officials in the Pentagon courtyard. Friends, family and colleagues of Giffords were also in attendance, including her husband, Mark Kelly, and Roxanna Green, mother of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who was one of six killed in the same tragic shooting incident that left Giffords badly wounded in January 2011. Mabus announced that Roxanna will be the ship’s “sponsor” and that her initials will be welded into the keel.
Giffords resigned from Congress last month as she continues to recover. Twelve others were also wounded in that shooting.
"God bless the USS Gabrielle Giffords and all who sail in her,” Mabus said.
Former Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton spoke about his friend Gabby and what it meant to have her name on the Navy's newest ship. "Ship naming is important," Skelton said. "Ships take on the characteristics or character of the name of the ship ... and I predict the USS Gabrielle Giffords will reflect the finest and the best of this young lady that is seated in front of us."
Littoral combat ships are designed specifically for close-to-shore operations.
Giffords spoke many times throughout the ceremony, cheerfully thanking many of those in attendance. Members of the press remarked in a news conference following the ceremony that Giffords could be heard singing the national anthem louder than anyone on the stage. When she was presented with the picture of the ship with her name beneath it, she smiled and said loudly, "Wow, that's good."
Mabus said it was his own idea to name the ship after Giffords. "I thought it was important," he said.
Earlier Friday, Giffords was at the White House to witness President Obama sign her final bill into law. The legislation will increase penalties on criminals who smuggle drugs into the country with the use of ultralight aircraft. That legislation passed the House on the day she stepped down with a vote of 428-0.
"I'm confident that, while this legislation may have been her last act as a congresswoman, it will not be her last act of public service," Obama said in a written statement.