The USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. under construction at Bath Iron Works. Courtesy of Bath Iron Works

Bath Iron Works will hold a christening ceremony Saturday for its latest destroyer, the USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr.

The ship, BIW’s 40th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is named after an 83-year-old Medal of Honor recipient from Virginia who will attend the ceremony. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Gov. Janet Mills are among the officials also expected to attend.

Barnum was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Dec. 18, 1965, when he was a Marine lieutenant fighting in Vietnam. His unit was on a mission in the Quảng Tín province when they were ambushed, according to his Medal of Honor citation. His commander was mortally wounded and the radio operator was killed. Barnum gave first aid to the commander, strapped the radio on his back and led a counterattack. He exposed himself to gunfire while directing soldiers and ordered engineers to blow down trees to form a landing zone so helicopters could take the dead and wounded.

“We came together as a team, and as a team we fended off an enemy that outnumbered us 10-to-1,” Barnum said.

His citation reads, “His sound and swift decisions and his obvious calm served to stabilize the badly decimated units and his gallant example as he stood exposed repeatedly to point out targets served as an inspiration to all. … His gallant initiative and heroic conduct reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps.”

Barnum returned to Vietnam in 1968 and earned two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, among other awards. After the war, he stayed in the Marines and was promoted to colonel in 1984. He went on to service as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for reserve affairs and acting assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs.


Harvey C. Barnum Jr. Courtesy of Bath Iron Works

U.S. Navy christening ceremonies date back to 1797, when Capt. James Sever smashed a bottle of wine across the bow of the newly constructed USS Constitution to celebrate its launch into the water, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command. Barnum’s wife, Martha, will perform the bottle-breaking tradition with sparkling wine Saturday as the destroyer is in drydock. The ship will be launched into the Kennebec River in the coming weeks, according to the shipyard.

The USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. is a Flight IIA Arleigh Burke destroyer, one of the last such models. BIW and Mississippi’s Ingalls Shipbuilding, the only shipyards that build the Arleigh Burkes, are transitioning to the Flight III model, which has more advanced radar. The destroyers are commonly called the workhorse of the Navy’s fleet, capable of simultaneously engaging ships, submarines, aircraft and missiles, and withstanding chemical attacks. The Barnum, with a crew of 279, is 510 feet long and can exceed 30 knots. It’s outfitted with missiles, torpedoes and machine guns, with room for two helicopters. The ship has months of construction remaining before it undergoes sea trials and is eventually commissioned into service.

A group of several dozen protesters said they plan to hold a rally near the shipyard during the ceremony, “calling for an end to building weapons.”

The Bath-built USS Thomas Hudner, which was commissioned in 2018, earlier this month was deployed to the Middle East as a deterrent after American military officials said Iran’s navy has been harassing shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.

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