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USS Ralph Johnson officially joins Navy fleet

Helen Richards, sister of PFC Ralph H. Johnson, addresses the more than 5,500 attendees during the commissioning of the USS Ralph Johnson.

As the crew hoisted the American flag on a breezy morning, more than 5,500 attendees cheered as the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114), the Navy’s 64th Arleigh Burke class destroyer, was commissioned on March 24 at the Columbus Street Pier in Charleston.

The USS Ralph Johnson, whose construction was first announced by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus on Feb. 15, 2012, is named for Charleston native Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson, USMC, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic action while serving in Vietnam, where he threw himself on an enemy grenade to save the lives of his fellow Marines. At the time of his death, Johnson was assigned to the Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, whose motto “Swift, Silent, Deadly” has been adopted by the ship. The Charleston VAMC was also re-named for Pfc. Johnson 26 years ago – an effort led by local Vietnam Veterans.

With his sister Helen Richards giving remarks during the ceremony, numerous members of the Johnson family lined the front row. Also in attendance were six members of Ralph’s unit, nicknamed Texas Pete. They included platoon leader Lt. Clebe McClary who was wounded in the blast that claimed Ralph’s life, and Ralph’s best friend from the unit Pfc. Alex Colvin who passed the king watch to the crew member responsible for the first watch during the ceremony.

Cdr. Jason Patterson, commanding officer of the USS Ralph Johnson, said this is the most lethal and advanced war ship on the fighting seas. He thanked Richards for the honor of sailing the ship that bears her brother’s name, and for adopting the crew into the Johnson family.

While many speakers recounted the story of the fateful night on Hill 146 in the Quan Duc Valley of Vietnam when Pfc. Johnson made the ultimate sacrifice, Sen. Tim Scott challenged the audience to remember that Ralph’s heroic action took place during 1968, a time of civil rights strife in the U.S. Scott lauded Johnson for his sacrifice regardless of race, creed or color saying it is our responsibility to continue to embrace our fellow man in the same vein.

His sentiment was echoed by keynote speaker Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller who said Vietnam Veterans deserve honor and respect for their sacrifice.

Neller concluded saying, “As long as we have citizens like Private First Class Ralph Johnson who are willing to stand up and take an oath and wear her colors and make the sacrifice, we are going to be just fine.”

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