KITTERY, Maine — Navy tradition suggests that the spirit of the ship’s sponsor goes to sea with the crew of a ship. So the USS New Hampshire, an attack submarine commissioned Saturday, carries with it a spirit of perseverance and determination to move forward.
Cheryl McGuinness, whose husband was a co-pilot aboard a jetliner that crashed into the World Trade Center, gave the command: “Crew of the New Hampshire, come aboard and bring our ship to life.”
With those words, sailors answered, “Aye aye, ma’am!” in unison before marching down the gangway and onto the submarine, where they stood at attention along its length. The snorkel and masts rose from the submarine’s conning tower and the submarine’s horn sounded as the vessel came to life.
As a former Navy wife, McGuinness said she understands what will be asked of the ship’s crew — and their families — as the New Hampshire heads to sea.
“These sailors are standing up for our country, standing up for freedom and standing up for our protection,” she said.
“I understand the challenges that the sailors will endure for our sake and have a deep appreciation for all that they’ll go through,” she said. “We’ll be praying for strength for them.”
It was a historic event: The Virginia-class submarine is the third Navy warship to bear the name New Hampshire, and the commissioning was held at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the nation’s oldest Navy shipyard. The last commissioning held here was the USS Maine in 1995.
About 3,000 invited guests were allowed onto the shipyard on an island between Maine and New Hampshire, and many more gathered a quarter mile away across the water in Portsmouth, N.H.
The submarine was named for the Granite State after a letter-writing campaign five years ago by third-graders in Dover, N.H. The previous ships named for New Hampshire were a sailing ship that served in the Civil War and a battleship that served in World War I.
Veterans organizations lobbied the Navy to appoint McGuinness, of Portsmouth, N.H., to serve as sponsor. Her husband, Tom, a former Navy fighter pilot, was co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, which was flown into the World Trade Center North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001.
She said she learned from her devastating loss to pick herself up, and to keep moving forward. She launched a ministry, Beauty Beyond the Ashes. She has since remarried.
“When you have tough times in life,” she said before the ceremony, “there’s a way through it. Not only a way through it, but you can go further in your life than you ever thought before if you were willing to go through the pain, to persevere, and push your way through it.”
“My key message is that you can go beyond your current circumstance, whatever it may be, to live a whole new life if you have a right perspective on the giver of life.”
Crewmembers said they were honored to have her as sponsor. Her initials are welded on a hull plate that’s on display in the sub’s mess hall.
“True to the spirit that secured liberty for this nation, Cheryl tackled her loss with remarkable strength and character, and in doing so gave us hope and encouragement,” Cmdr. Michael J. Stevens, the ship’s commanding officer, told the spectators.
The USS New Hampshire, which bears the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die,” is the fifth in the Virginia class of nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The high-tech ship shatters many of the stereotypes of submarines. For instance, there’s no periscope. Instead, they have “photonic masts,” fancy cameras, if you will. And gone are the old-school propellers. Like the Seawolf-class subs, they use water jet propulsion.
The 377-foot submarine was built under a joint effort by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat division in Groton, Conn., and Northrop Grumman’s Newport News shipyard in Virginia.
With a crew of about 130 sailors and officers, Virginia-class submarines were designed to fill a number of roles, including sinking ships, launching cruise missiles, gathering intelligence and depositing Navy SEALs in trouble spots via minisub carried piggyback-style.