Navy Names New Cargo Ship After Cesar Chavez, To Praise and Criticism

The newest cargo ship being built in San Diego will be named the USNS César Chávez after the late civil rights leader despite objections from a San Diego congressman.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus confirmed the ship's name Wednesday during a visit to the NAASCO shipyard in Barrio Logan.

"César Chávez inspired young Americans to do what is right and what is necessary to protect our freedoms and our country,'' Mabus said. "The César Chávez will sail hundreds of thousands of miles, and will bring support and assistance to thousands upon thousands of people. His example will live on in this great ship.''

Chávez served in the Navy after World War II, and later co-founded the United Farm Workers union and worked to improve civil rights for Latinos.

"His example blazed a path for subsequent generations and his example will live through this ship," said Mabus. "It will continue to inspire young Americans to do what is right."

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The naming drew criticism Tuesday from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-El Cajon, who accused the Navy of being more interested in making a political statement than upholding its history and tradition.

"If this decision were about recognizing the Hispanic community's contribution to our nation, many other names come to mind, including Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor for action in Iraq,'' Hunter said. "Peralta is one of many Hispanic war heroes -- some of whom are worthy of the same recognition.''

Peralta, from Escondido, was killed in action in Fallujah, Iraq, and was eventually awarded the Navy Cross.

Hunter also suggested naming a ship after John Finn, who won the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Several other members of the California congressional delegation, including Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Susan Davis, commended the Navy 's choice of names.

"The life he led and what he stood for...respect, dignity and human rights...are an inspiration to millions of Americans from all walks of life," said Davis.

Chávez's son said he understood what Hunter was saying but called his comments unfortunate.

"He does make a good point," said Paul Chávez, President of the Cesar Chávez Foundation. "And so we are really accepting in the spirit of all of those folks that have made tremendous contributions."

Construction of the 689-foot long vessel began at NASSCO last October and delivery to the Navy's Sealift Command is due in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Paul Chávez said his father's experience mirrored that of other Latinos in their patriotism for the United States.

"No one yearns for peace more than those who get sent in harm's way during times of war,'' he said. "So it is our hope that this ship will fill out its service during a time when it can help promote peace and democracy in the world.''

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