Amid high fanfare, the Littoral Combat Ship that will enter service as the USS Mobile was christened Saturday morning at the Austal USA shipyard on the Mobile waterfront.

Over the years, the milestones of a ship’s progress – the first cuts, the keel-layings, the christenings and so on – have become somewhat routine at the facility. Not this one: Hundreds of spectators and dignitaries were on hand, and many of them were seated underneath the massive arch formed by one wing of the aluminum trimaran hull.

Rebecca Byrne, wife of U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, served as the ship’s sponsor. “To be a Mobilian is to love life and to live it to the fullest,” she said. “I know it is supposed to be my spirit in the ship. But that lively Mobile spirit will be there too.”

Rebecca Byrne said she’d provided three tokens to be kept within the ship: A piece of brick from the original Fort Conde; an oyster shell from Mobile Bay; and a Mardi Gras doubloon from a parade in which the songs of Jimmy Buffett had been used as a theme. To those, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson added the key to the city.

Rep. Byrne praised the Mobile for the flexibility and shallow-water capability of the Littoral Combat Ship class, saying that when equipped with over-the-horizon missiles “she is a threat to all maritime adversaries.” He singled out China as an adversary of note, saying the nation is ambitious to expand its control from Asia across the island chains of the Pacific. Like several speakers, he referenced the fact that Saturday’s ceremony took place on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. “We will not let ourselves become so vulnerable again,” he said.

He said that a strong naval presence, via the Mobile and other ships, would help keep the peace: “If we stand in that gap, there will be no war,” he said. “At least, no hot war.”

Byrne also said a warship could only benefit from a symbolic link to his wife’s spirit: “If you challenge her, you will not have a good day,” he said of both.

The day was a high-water mark for Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle and other company executives, who celebrated the Australian company’s rapid growth from its initial small entry into shipbuilding in the United States 20 years ago. He said the Mobile will “represent the best that America has to offer across the globe for decades.”

Saying that Austal had delivered 20 ships to the Navy in the last five years, Perciavalle touted the company’s potential importance in helping the Navy reach an ambitious target goal for fleet size. “355 comes right through Mobile,” he told Navy officials on hand.

One of them responded in kind: “Let’s see about 20 more in the next 5 years,” said Frederick J. Stephany III, the principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “Let’s see what we can do.”

“Did you all hear that?” asked Perciavalle, pointing out that he had “about 1,500 witnesses” to the remark.

Among those singled out for attention during the program were some officers and sailors who will serve aboard the next USS Mobile – and one who served aboard the last one. Vietnam War veteran Ron Evens, 66, said after the ceremony that he’d served as a signalman second class on that vessel during active days in the waters off Vietnam.

“We were in combat off Tiger Island in 1972,” he said. “We were one of the main routing ships for the evacuation of Saigon, we escorted the South Vietnamese Navy from Vietnam to the Philippines.” The ship, which remained in service into the 1990s, has been mothballed in the Philadelphia area, he said, and some of the veterans who served on it would like to see it brought down and displayed at USS Alabama Memorial Park.

With the futuristic hull of his ship’s successor towering over him, Evens said he had high hopes for the next USS Mobile.

“I hope she does us proud,” Evans said.

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