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Wilmington chosen to host ship commissioning

READ MORE: Wilmington chosen to host ship commissioning
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The US Navy has chosen Wilmington to host the commissioning of a huge new ship this fall. The commissioning ceremony will likely mean an economic boost for the Port City, drawing thousands to watch the Navy accept the vessel.

The ship is close to the size of two football fields. It's been named the USS Gravely in honor of an African-American Navy pioneer.

"Bringing a Navy ship here to commission is a real honor. The Navy doesn't do this indiscriminately. They think about what they're doing," said retired Navy Capt. Dave Scheu.

The USS Gravely is part of the Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers, among the largest and most powerful destroyers ever built. It's named after Vice Adm. Samuel Gravely Jr., the first African-American to command a US Navy warship, serve in combat conditions and command a US Navy fleet.

"He was a person who really believed in doing a job, no matter what job it was, how little or how big a job, but doing it well," said Gravely's widow Alma.

The Navy chose Wilmington because of the hospitality shown during the commissioning of the USS North Carolina submarine in May 2008.

"In fact, the Navy has said it was the best commissioning of a submarine in the history of the Navy, so we're honored to have them here," Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said at a news conference Wednesday.

More than 7,000 people packed the State Port of Wilmington to witness that ceremony.

Some think another commissioning will be an economic boost.

"We'll have a lot of the personnel here in Wilmington, as well as their families, vendors that will come in to work on the ship as well as Navy personnel from the state and the region that will come visit our community and come visit the ship," Saffo said.

Others aren't so sure.

"We spent a lot of money, a lot of resources, a lot of volunteer time was poured into that effort, and once the ship was commissioned and left, all we got was a nice 'Thank You' letter from the Navy, a pat on the back, and said, 'You guys do such a great job in Wilmington, that we'll give you another ship to commission,'" said US Navy retiree and military historian Capt. Wilbur Jones.

The Gravely was Christened in Pascagoula, MS, in May. Alma Gravely had the honor of breaking the champagne bottle across the bow.

"They all teased me and said that was my bowling arm that did it," Gravely said. She's delighted that Wilmington is the host city.

When the Gravely comes to Wilmington, it will be docked at the Port like the submarine. But unlike the nuclear submarine, which was very difficult to visit for security reasons, Mayor Saffo says this ship should be more accommodating to tours.

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