July 26, 1997
The U.S. Navy cargo vessel USNS Watson was launched at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company’s shipyard in San Diego. U.S. Secretary of the Army Togo D. West, Jr., was the principal speaker at the ceremony and his wife Gail christened the new ship with a bottle of champagne. (The vessel’s prefix USNS stands for “United States Naval Ship”; this designation is used to identify non-commissioned ships owned by the Navy but operated by one of the primarily civilian crews of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command.)
U.S. Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton named USNS Watson after George Watson, a U.S. Army private who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the ship he was on was hit by Japanese bombers, Watson stayed in the water to help other soldiers get into life rafts. He drowned when the suction of the sinking ship pulled him underwater. About six months before the ship bearing his name was launched, Watson became one of seven African-American veterans of World War II to be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton. (Only one of these veterans was still alive at the time to receive his award.)
The 950-foot (289.6-meter)-long USNS Watson was the first of the Watson-class vehicle cargo ships (a total of eight have been built to date). These ships transport a variety of military vehicles, including tanks and helicopters. The large roll-on/roll-off ships are just a few of the vessels used by the Military Sealift Command and strategically positioned worldwide to provide supplies and other support to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Defense Logistics Agency. With beams of 106 feet (32.3 meters) each, USNS Watson and the similarly sized ships in her namesake class had the distinction of being the largest vessels able to fit through the Panama Canal until the expansion of that waterway in 2016.
For more information on USNS Watson, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USNS_Watson_(T-AKR-310) and http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/54/540310.htm.
Additional information on George Watson is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Watson_(Medal_of_Honor).