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Maine shipyard christens warship named for WWII commander who went on to lead Pacific Fleet

Spruance Christening_060510

June 5: The Spruance is seen during the christening ceremony at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. (AP)

BATH, Maine (AP) — A U.S. Navy destroyer bearing the name of a commander who won a pivotal battle in the Pacific during World War II was christened with a bottle of champagne Saturday by his granddaughter, who said the naval officer would've blushed at all the attention.

The 9,200-ton Aegis destroyer bears the name of Adm. Raymond Spruance, who commanded a battle group comprised of two of three U.S. aircraft carriers whose warplanes sank four Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway, which was hailed as the turning point in the Pacific in World War II.

Ellen Spruance Holscher whacked the champagne bottle several times against the ship's bow before it finally broke with a bubbly spray before a cheering crowd that included four of Spruance's other grandchildren and six of his great-grandchildren at Bath Iron Works, where the ship is being built.

"My grandfather would be awe of all this fuss, because he didn't like all the fuss," she said of Spruance, who enjoyed a reputation as quiet, determined and shy.

Heavy rain and thunderstorms rolled through the region before the event, but the rain held off for hundreds of people attending the ceremony at the shipyard.

Spruance, who previously led a division of cruisers, was hand-picked for the Battle of Midway by Adm. William "Bull" Halsey, who was sidelined with a health problem.

Japan planned to take over the atoll and draw the U.S. Navy into a decisive battle in June 1942. But the U.S. cracked the Japanese code and learned of their intentions.

Once the Japanese fleet was located, Spruance ordered an all-out air attack that caught Japanese aircraft being refueled and reloaded on the carrier decks. There was some luck involved, as Japanese Zero fighters were engaged with torpedo bombers and didn't see high-flying dive bombers approaching.

By the time the battle ended, all four Japanese aircraft carriers and a cruiser were sunk, making it a turning point in the war by weakening the Japanese navy.

Spruance went on to command the Pacific Fleet from 1945 to 1946 and to serve as ambassador to the Philippines. He died in 1969.

Holscher, of Atlanta, said her grandfather had a reputation for quiet determination that prompted author Thomas Buell to title his Spruance biography "The Quiet Warrior."

"He's portrayed as quiet, cool, calm and collected. But with us he could be this sort of mischievous, fun grandfather," Holscher said before the ceremony.

The new Spruance isn't the first warship to bear his name. The first USS Spruance was the lead ship in the Spruance-class of destroyers, built in the 1970s.

Aegis destroyers use powerful computers and phased-array radar to simultaneously wage war with aircraft, missiles, submarines and surface warships. They're also the only surface warships in the Navy's arsenal that can be sealed off to withstand biological, chemical and nuclear attacks.

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