By David Sharp
BATH — Wayne E. Meyer, the retired rear admiral known as the “father of Aegis,” looked on with pride as his wife christened an Aegis destroyer bearing his name with a bottle of champagne Saturday at the Bath Iron Works shipyard.
Streamers shot into the air as Anna Mae Meyer, doused with champagne, held aloft the broken bottle to the applause of more than 1,500 spectators watching in the shadow of the warship.
It was a special moment for Meyer, who has come to Bath several times during the ship’s construction to see the ship and meet the crew and shipbuilders.
The event marked only the third time since the first Aegis destroyer was launched in 1989 that the ship’s namesake was present for the christening at Bath Iron Works. The other two men for whom the ships were named — Arleigh Burke and Paul Nitze — have since passed away.
“You can do whatever you want to with this ship, but you just want to remember I’m still alive,” Meyer, 82, said in light-hearted advice for Anna Mae and the ship’s commander.
During his Navy career, Meyer helped to lead the Navy’s electronics advancements from tubes to transistors before overseeing the Aegis weapon system, which was first placed in cruisers, and then in Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the first of which was built at Bath.
The Aegis system uses powerful computers and a phased-array radar to track more than 100 targets, and launch missiles to destroy them. The destroyers, which cost about $1.1 billion, can withstand chemical attacks while simultaneously waging war with enemy airplanes, warships and submarines.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union may have had more scientists, but the U.S. had better engineers, Meyer said. “We out-engineered them,” he said before the ceremony. “That’s what we did.”
The Meyer represents the 58th destroyer in the class and the 31st built at Bath Iron Works.
“She’s a thing to behold,” he said.
Outside the shipyard, about 50 or 60 demonstrators gathered. They carried signs with slogans like, “Windmills, not destroyers” and “Good people, bad product.”
The activists christened their own “ship,” the USS Granny D, in honor of the 98-year-old activist from New Hampshire, Doris Haddock, who walked 3,200 miles to draw attention to campaign finance reform and waged a quixotic campaign for the U.S. Senate four years ago.
Haddock, however, was unable to attend. From her home in Dublin, N.H., Haddock said she was resting after a long trip. “It was more sensible to stay home,” she said.
Inside the shipyard, speaker after speaker heaped praise on Meyer.
Sen. Susan Collins described Meyer as a “living legend, a patriot and a visionary.” Sean Stackley, assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition, said Meyer’s Aegis system represents “American naval superiority.”
Meyer, for his part, said he didn’t create the Aegis system on his own. He said he had plenty of help both from within the Navy and the private sector.
With the christening behind schedule, he concluded his remarks by addressing Bath Iron Works President Dugan Shipway. “Now, Mr. President, are we going to get on with what it was we came here to do?” he asked, to laughter from the spectators.
Anna Mae Meyer proceeded to christen the ship.
“God bless this ship and all who sail on her, and God bless the United States of America,” she said. Then she swung the bottle at the ship’s bow with a clang, champagne sprayed into the air and a Navy band broke into “Anchors Aweigh.”
Others attending the event included several family members, Maine’s governor and the state’s congressional delegation. Also on hand were Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations; Rear Adm. William Landay III, program executive officer for ships; and Cmdr. Nick Sarap Jr., the ship’s commanding officer.