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USS North Carolina 'brought to life' again

For the first time in nearly 60 years, a Navy warship bearing the state's name is on the sea lanes after a commissioning ceremony in Wilmington Saturday.

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WILMINGTON, N.C. — At the cry of "Bring her to life!," 140 sailors rushed onto the newly commissioned USS North Carolina submarine on Saturday morning.

The fast-attack nuclear submarine became the first Navy warship to bear North Carolina's name in 60 years after a commissioning ceremony in Wilmington. Crew hoisted a pennant which flew at the celebration of the 67th anniversary of the commissioning the fourth USS North Carolina in April.

Linda Bowman, who sponsored the submarine and christened it in April 2007, sent the crew running from the back of the audience onto the submarine.

"You are a team and ready to go forth and defend this country," Bowman told the crew. "My hope is that she will sail in peace to keep us free. My assurance is that she will always be ready to defend that freedom whenever necessary.

"Officers and crew of the USS North Carolina, man your ship, and bring her to life!"

Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, and Sen. Elizabeth Dole also spoke.

"What a beautiful day to once again place the name North Carolina among the fine ships of our great Navy," said Capt. Mark Davis, the sub's commander. "I can't imagine a more appropriate setting, with a Carolina blue sky."

Admiral Kirkland Donald, director of naval reactors, predicted that North Carolina's namesake would have a lucky career at sea.

"Any sailor will tell you, you've got to have a little luck," Donald said. "Well, as a completely unbiased native of North Carolina, I think the luck started when we picked the best name possible."

About a half dozen native Tar Heels are a part of the crew, which will next sail her to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The submarine will join the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet.

Crew members said they expect to form tight bonds on the 377-foot submarine. Garner native Tyler Murray considers these sailors an extension of his Wake County family.

"You know everybody by face. You know their families; you know their kids' names," Murray said.

The fourth Virginia-class submarine was to built to support covert, as well as traditional naval operations. She displaces more than 7,800 tons and carries enhanced stealth and surveillance capabilities and the ability to strike on-shore targets with Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The high-tech submarine, though, bears marks of the heritage created by the previous four USS North Carolina warships that have served in the U.S. Navy.

"Today is about much more than a submarine, it's also about history," Davis said. "And on the North Carolina, history is everything."

Teak, recycled from the decommissioned World War II battleship North Carolina, graces some surfaces of the submarine.

"History is why pieces of battleship teak are inlaid in our deck in several places, the most significant of which, for me, is just inside my stateroom," Davis said.

It's also not the first time a submarine named North Carolina has sailed from Wilmington. A Confederate ironclad sailed out of that port in 1863 and took part in one Civil War engagement.

The first North Carolina in the U.S. Navy was considered one of the most powerful vessels in the world when she was launched in 1820. Among other missions, she served as the flagship of the U.S. Mediterranean and South American fleets until she was sold for scrap in 1867.

The second USS North Carolina cruised the Middle East and participated in the first naval experiments using air power during World War I.

An arms-reduction treaty singed by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 prevented the fourth USS North Carolina, which was under construction at the time, from ever setting sail.

In 1937, however, the keel was laid for the first battleship to be constructed in 16 years, and it was later christened as the fourth USS North Carolina (BB 55). She participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during World War II and survived — despite claims by the Japanese that they had sunk her on six different occasions.

"When I've had a particularly challenging day and I'm feeling a bit frustrated, I look down at that teak and think about the trials and tribulations the sailors on BB 55 went through and realize I've got it pretty easy," Davis said.

A campaign by schoolchildren helped raise enough money to install the ship as a memorial in Wilmington after she was decommissioned in 1962.


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