NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Navy officers, officials and shipbuilders honored members of the Little Rock Nine during a keel authentication ceremony for the USS Arkansas submarine Saturday.
The event, held at Defense Company HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding Yard in Newport News, Virginia, marked the final phase of construction for the Virginia-class nuclear submarine. The Navy announced the ship’s name in 2015 and crews began construction in 2018.
The women of the Little Rock Nine – Melba Pattillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown-Trickey and Thelma Mothershed Wair – were named the sub’s sponsors in 2018 to celebrate their contribution to civil rights through the Recognize submarine 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School. The Navy has traditionally selected women to serve as ship sponsors; Her duties include commissioning the warship for active use and interacting with crew members.
All nine Little Rock Nine members – including male members Ernest Green, Terrence Roberts and the late Jefferson Thomas – were honored during Saturday’s event. Shipwrights welded the initials of Green, Eckford, Karlmark, LaNier, Wair and Brown-Trickey onto steel plates that crews will affix to the submarine during construction in the New Year.
“The courage and resilience of the Little Rock Nine ignited a fire of change and demonstrated the power of blending diverse perspectives and backgrounds,” said Jennifer Boykin, President of Newport News Shipbuilding, of those attending the ceremony. “We use this strength every day in our shipyard, because our diversity allows us to push beyond our individual limits, reach new heights and build each boat better than the previous one.”
Arkansas is the 27th Virginia-class submarine, following the delivery of USS Montana and the launch of USS New Jersey. The Navy plans to add two new submarines to its active fleet each year as other ships are retired.
The submarine is the fifth ship to bear the state’s name. The previous one – the cruiser USS Arkansas – is linked to the same Newport News shipyard. The cruiser’s keel ceremony was held on site in January 1977. The Navy commissioned the ship in October 1980 and decommissioned it in July 1998.
“It hasn’t escaped my notice that the same shipyard workers who laid down the Arkansas—the cruiser—may be here. [who] are supporting the Virginia-class construction program here,” said Vice Admiral William Houston, commander of the Navy’s submarine forces.
He continued: “This cruiser Arkansas protected us from the Soviet Union.
According to Houston, the Arkansas submarine can be used for 30 years once it becomes an active ship.
Eckford, who served in the Army for five years, said she hopes the sub will help the military “keep the peace.” She reflected on how the honor was added to the list of recognitions the Little Rock Nine have received.
“It’s been 65 years since we were in high school, but in the second half of our lives we’ve had some very, very unique experiences,” she added.
Water tests for the sub are scheduled for 2024 with hopes that the Navy will receive the sub in 2025.