Naval destroyer named for the late Sen. Levin to be christened in Maine this week

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — A naval destroyer named for the late Sen. Carl Levin is set to be christened Saturday at the Bath Iron Works in Maine, the U.S. Navy confirmed Monday. 

The USS Carl M. Levin is a 510-foot-long Arleigh Burke-class vessel, the 70th in the class, that weighed 7,500 tons when it launched in May. 

Levin, who died July 29 at age 87, was Michigan's longest-serving senator. He served on the Senate Armed Services Committee for all 36 of his years in office, including 10 years as its chairman. 

The christening of the USS Carl M. Levin, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is set for Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at the Bath Iron Works in Maine. Levin died July 29 at age 87.

At Saturday's ceremony,Levin's three daughters, Kate Levin Markel, Laura Levin and Erica Levin will perform the christening as the ship's designated sponsors. One of them will deliver a speech that their father wrote for the occasion before his death, said Levin's nephew, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township. 

To his dying day, Levin couldn't believe that the Navy decided to name a ship after him and was deeply honored, Andy Levin said. 

"I think a lot of people would say, 'Well, I was the chair of the Armed Services Committee for all these years, I did this, that, the other thing, so this is a fitting tribute to me,'" Andy Levin said. 

"That's not how Uncle Carl viewed this. He could not believe it. He was so overwhelmed by this honor. I hope any of us can hold on to humility the way he did throughout his life."

The ship, whose motto is "Tenacious in the Fight," was previously scheduled to be christened July 24, but the ceremony was postponed during the final weeks of Levin's life. 

Saturday's ceremony is by invitation only. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and the current chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is the main speaker. Reed and Levin were close friends. 

Andy Levin will also speak, according to the program, as well as Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro; Admiral William Lescher, vice chief of Naval Operations; Maine Gov. Janet Mills; and members of Maine's congressional delegation. Retired Rep. Sander Levin — Carl's older brother — also plans to attend. 

A christening is the traditional launching ceremony to mark the floating of a ship with the shattering of a bottle of champagne across the bow of the vessel.

After the christening, a ship typically has a few steps to go before it officially joins the naval fleet, including sea trials and commissioning, according to a timeline by the Naval Sea Systems Command. 

In 2016, Levin told reporters at the ship's naming ceremony in Detroit that the announcement caught him off guard and brought him to tears.

Retired U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, his wife, Barbara Halpern-Levin and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus chat after a ceremony in April 2016 naming an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer the U.S.S. Carl M. Levin in his honor on Monday at the General Motors Renaissance Center in Detroit. The USS Carl M. Levin is set to be christened Saturday at the Bath Iron Works in Maine, the U.S. Navy confirmed Monday.

“I did not expect it. I didn’t seek it,” Levin told reporters at the time. “It’s such an honor for me to be connected with the men and women who put on our uniform. It’s too difficult to describe any other way than overwhelming.”

Then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who knew Levin from his time chairing the Armed Services panel, bestowed the honor in 2016, saying he considered Levin to be one of the “most influential” members of the Senate.

“Destroyers are named for heroes,” Mabus said in 2016. “Carl Levin is an American hero.”

Mabus had also designated a Freedom-class littoral combat ship as the USS Detroit and named Levin's wife, Barbara, as its sponsor. 

In his memoir this year, Levin said he decided to try for a seat on the Armed Services panel when he arrived in the Senate in 1979 "not because I knew about the armed services but because I didn't."

Levin never served in the military after being deemed unfit for service due to an old knee injury. "I wanted to learn, to fill the gap in my experience so I could knowledgeably address the military issues that came before the Senate," he wrote in his book. 

He went on to build a record of targeting Defense Department waste and cost overruns and advocating for military families and Michigan's installations.

Andy Levin said his uncle relished the time he spent with service members and that on trips to war zones and U.S. bases around the world, he would always try to share a meal with the troops. 

"He considered it to be his sacred duty to spend time with troops when they weren't expecting it. And he just listened to them," Andy said. 

The USS Carl M. Levin is a 510-foot-long Arleigh Burke-class vessel, the 70th in the class, that weighed 7,500 tons when it launched in May.

"He considered that to be a super important part of being a senator or the chair of the Armed Services Committee — hanging out with young people defending our country."

mburke@detroitnews.com