12 April 2014

Christening of the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000)

You may be aware that the christening of the new Zumwalt destroyer took place today.

Last October, this event was postponed due to the government shut-down. At the time, when I discovered it was rescheduled for April, I commented to my husband and daughter that the weather in April is far too unpredictable to schedule such an event.

But I am not in charge.

And we were both shocked (and pleased!) to awaken this morning to the prettiest and warmest day we've had all year.

As my husband works at BIW and is closely involved with the construction of this new-fangled ship, we were among the lucky few that got a decent parking spot. And upon walking inside the gates to the shipyard, we saw this:

In all the years he's worked there, I'd only been inside the shipyard once, and just briefly. To walk around unimpeded and to bask in what turned out to be a glorious blue-sky day, was spectacular.

After touring around a bit, we found our seats and chatted about the day's events.

The late Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt II is the namesake of this new class of ships, and his story is one that everyone should hear.

Zumwalt grew up in California and then went to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1939. A wartime hero during WWII, Zumwalt met and married his French-Russian wife, Mouza, while in Shanghai, China. Apparently they only knew each other three weeks when they got married, and to further complicate matters, she spoke no English and he spoke no Russian. But it was a love that would last.

Zumwalt had a long and distinguished Naval career including, among many other things, assuming command in 1959 of the frigate, USS Dewey (DLG-14), also built at Bath Iron works.

In 1970, Zumwalt became the youngest Chief of Naval Operations thus far, at the age of 49, and he quickly began to make sweeping changes in the Navy. His Navy-wide messages known as Z-grams included measures to reduce discrimination against women and minorities, which were opposed by some, but which ultimately changed the Navy for the better and launched it into a more inclusive future.

The Zumwalts had four children: Elmo R. Zumwalt III, James Gregory Zumwalt; Ann F. Zumwalt Coppola and Mouzetta C. Zumwalt-Weathers. Sadly, the eldest son, Elmo, died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 42, and the admiral always felt it was due to exposure to Agent Orange (by his orders) in Vietnam.

We then talked about what we know of the Zumwalt family.

My husband met the son and daughters, who were to be at today's christening, a few months before. Ironically, when I was in college, my parents moved in right across the street from Admiral Zumwalt and his wife in Arlington, Virginia. I was young and busy and hardly around, but my parents were instantly taken with "Bud and Mouza."

My dad has been emailing me all week with memories and links to articles and clippings about the christening, the obituaries of both Bud and Mouza, and countless articles about their lives together.

Here are some of his words:

As you know, I liked the Admiral a lot. He was very kind to me, offering to introduce me to several very high level officials in Washington, most notably Ambassador Paul Nitze, who had been a close advisor to almost a dozen Presidents. I never took him up on the offer because I didn’t want to waste their time by talking about things that would be of no more than passing interest to them. In retrospect, that decision on my part might have been a mistake because one never knows what very beneficial things can come from such meetings.

Bud’s wife’s name was Mouza. As I’ve mentioned, she was a White Russian. They also had a son, who died tragically years ago from effects of exposure to Agent Orange in Viet Nam, ironically while Bud was in charge of Naval operations there.

The next day I got another email:

I’ve mentioned that in 1990 I saw Mouza just after she had returned from her 50th high school reunion, apparently in Manchuria. She told me that there were only 5 people from her class of 50 then still living, and, rather matter-of-factly, that most of the deceased had been killed by the communists. As you probably know, the White Russians opposed the Bolsheviks (Red Russians) in the Russian civil war (Russian Revolution), and the Whites were largely exterminated after the Red communists won that war.

I have fond memories of numerous visits (and games of tennis) with Bud, and several conversations with Mouza. Wonderful people.

And now here were the children of this couple - these neighbors of my parents - sitting before us in the grandstand, waiting to name a ship after their heroic father. It was surreal.

As the festivities got underway, we looked to the giant screen above us and to the right of the grandstand.

Up at the podium was the new commander of the Zumwalt, Captain James Kirk.

Yes you read that right.

Captain Kirk rallied the troops and they marched to the front with much pomp and circumstances while the band played Anchors Aweigh.

And from then on out, Captain Kirk jokes ensued.

In attendance and presenting with heartfelt speeches were Governor Paul LePage, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King, Congressman Mike Michaud, and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. And while each poked fun at the name of the new commander, they also spoke of the man whose name is given to this great ship.

The principle speaker was Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who told personal stories about the admiral, and mentioned that the ship has been under construction for five years now.

Finally we heard from the remaining children of Admiral Zumwalt. First up was his son, James Zumwalt, followed by daughters Mouzetta Zumwalt-Weathers and Ann Zumwalt Coppola.

After hearing personal stories given by the children of Bud Zumwalt, there was hardly a dry eye in the crowd. They spoke with such love and admiration of their parents; the good they did, the passion they had for social issues, and the patriotism passed on to the children.

Amusingly, amidst all the tears and fanfare, an osprey pair swooped overhead as it built its nest atop a pole above the big screen.

Next the Zumwalt family was escorted to the bow of the ship where a giant "Z" had been aptly placed. There, daughters Ann and Mouzetta smashed champagne bottles near the bow, to the roar of the crowd and the raining down of red, white and blue streamers.

It was a bittersweet moment. But mostly sweet.

And for our family, it was an honor to witness.

And for my husband, it's been an honor and a privilege to be a part of building such a ship.

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. It is as if I were listening to a NPR story corps segment. You did a terrific job documenting a historic event. Your personal anecdotes were especially heartwarming.

Janet said...

Way cool! I'm jealous, I've only seen it from the bridge. Kooky boat.