Congressman rips Navy over naming ship after Chavez
SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Navy's plan to name a cargo ship after the late farmworker activist Cesar Chavez drew sharp criticism from a California Republican congressman who said today the decision was unfair to military war heroes.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he learned of the matter from Navy officials, who have not made their plans public yet. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is expected to announce the decision on Wednesday when he visits the facilities of General Dynamic NASSCO, where the ship is being built, in San Diego's mostly Hispanic neighborhood, Barrio Logan.
"Naming a ship after Cesar Chavez goes right along with other recent decisions by the Navy that appear to be more about making a political statement than upholding the Navy's history and tradition," said Hunter, referring to another recent spat he had with the Navy over its recent decision that would have allowed chaplains to perform same sex-unions in states where gay marriage is legal. The Navy abruptly reversed that plan last week after coming under pressure from lawmakers.
Hunter said a better choice for the last of the 14 Lewis and Clark-class cargo ships would be Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor for action in Iraq — or WWII Medal of Honor recipient John Finn, a lifelong San Diego resident.
"If this decision were about recognizing the Hispanic community's contribution to our nation, many other names come to mind," said Hunter, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Navy officials declined to comment today on Hunter's remarks.
General Dynamics NASSCO spokesman, James Gill, said his company suggested the name to the Navy because it wanted to honor its mostly Hispanic workforce and Barrio Logan.
Marc Grossman, a spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, said he did not know Hunter's motivation in criticizing the decision. Grossman, who knew Chavez for 24 years, said he was a humble man who would have never wanted the spotlight.
"He was always uncomfortable being singled out for praise because he knew there were many Cesar Chavezes — farmworkers who made great sacrifices and accomplished great things but who were unknown," he said. "So the Chavez family today acknowledges this honor in the name of all Latinos who have built this country and served this country in the armed services."
Chavez, who died in 1993 at the age of 66, is credited with helping to secure a U.S. law that recognized farmworkers' rights to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining.
He joined the Navy in 1946 and served two years before being honorably discharged, and two of his cousins were killed fighting in WWII, Grossman said.
The other 13 cargo ships built by NASSCO for the Navy have been named after such notable Americans as explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and famed aviator Amelia Earhart. Chavez would be the first Mexican-American in that group.