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U.S. Navy launches ship named after Charles R. Drew in San Diego

February 27, 2010 |  1:52 pm
Usnscharlesdrew Syliva Drew Ivie has seen schools and a medical college named after her late father Charles Drew, a black surgeon whose pioneering work in the science of blood preservation was key to the development of large-scale blood banks.

But the U.S. Navy’s christening and launching of the massive, 689-feet long dry cargo/ammunition ship Charles Drew from a San Diego shipyard early Saturday may have been the most unusual “edifice” named after him. But it was no less touching, the 66-year-old Drew Ivie said.
The Los Angeles resident acknowledged that some people would find it unusual for a warship to be named after her father, who also serves as the namesake of Willowbrook’s Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.  Then again, her father’s research on the storage and shipment of plasma is credited with saving hundreds of lives during World War II.
“Even though he was not in the miltary, his name is connected to saving lives in the military,” Drew Ivie said. “Whatever my politics are about the wars the U.S. is engaged in, taking care of people fighting in wars and among our allies was a very integral part of his story.”
The ship will deliver dry cargo, including food, fuel, repair parts, ship store items, and ammunition to U.S. and Allied aircraft carriers and destroyers. It is about 85% complete, and is expected to be delivered to the Navy in July, said Karl Johnson, a spokesman for General Dynamics NASSCO, the ship’s builder.

“It will provide them with all the supplies they need, from corn flakes to missles, from gasoline to ice cream,” he said . “It will be crewed by civilian mariners, like a merchant marine fleet.”
The ship was christened by Drew’s eldest daughter, Bebe Drew Price, who broke a bottle of champagne against the bow under rainy skies before more than 1,300 people. The Charles Drew is so large that there are generally only two days a month when the tide is high enough for the Navy to safely slide a ship into San Diego Bay, Johnson said.
He said that the ship will return to the NASSCO shipyard to be completed and for testing, including sea trials. About 1,000 people have worked on building the ship at any one time, Johnson said. When it is finally complete, the ship will be crewed by about 135 people, he added. Two helicopters can land on the Charles Drew.

Drew Ivie said she was looking forward to keeping in touch with the ship’s crew, a tradition for family of people who have ships named after them. She said she sensed “tremendous pride” in the men and women who have been working on completing the ship.
“We will stay in touch with the crew,” Drew Ivie said. “We can go aboard the ship and go out with the ship for short stints. I can send cookies to the officers or the people in the mess hall. We can have a living relationship with the crew. It’s very inspiring.”
Drew Ivie, a top aide for L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said she was only 6 years old when her father died in 1950. But she remembered how tender he was to his four children, and the way he would take them in the family’s 1949 Packard to Rock Creek Park, where he would pretend that the car was stalled in a stream.

“We screamed. No matter how many times he did it, we always loved it,” she said. "We knew we were safe, but we pretended we were lost at sea.”

Her father was the director of the first American Red Cross effort to collect and bank blood on a large scale, but he nevertheless encountered racial discrimination. When the military issued an order to the Red Cross during World War II that blood be “typed” according to the race of the donor, Drew was outraged. And despite his contributions to blood plasma research, he was denied membership in the American College of Surgeons.
“He would have been just thrilled,” Drew Ivie said of the naming of a ship after her father. “It’s extremely gratifying, and it will be a beacon to people of all races and ethnicities that their contributions are appreciated. That we are appreciated.”

-- Hector Becerra

Photo: The Charles Drew. Credit: U.S. Navy.