PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The legacy of a man who made history is now enshrined on a Navy ship being built in Pascagoula. A keel authentication ceremony for DDG 121 was held at Ingalls Shipbuilding on Tuesday morning.
The tedious process of building a military vessel usually takes several years from start to finish. That's why each milestone reached in the construction is celebrated.
"I think we're the best in the world at building warships, and this is another chance for us to show how good we are," said Ingalls President Brian Cuccias.
The mass of welded metal and other materials will one day be the guided missile destroyer DDG 121. After the keel authentication ceremony, it will bear an additional name: Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr.
"He was very gregarious, but he was also a person who never really wanted a lot of praise or recognition," said Petersen's widow, Dr. Alicia Petersen.
Petersen died two years ago, but his legacy lives on through his wife. She stood beside the man who became known as the first African American Marine Corps aviator and the first African American Marine Corps General.
She said he was a man who cared about those around him.
"He always related well to people and always thought it was important to do that," said Petersen.
That's the kind of figure Cuccias was proud to see on a ship that his company was building.
"What a testament. What a spirit that will go with this ship. A real war fighter," Cuccias said.
The ship's sponsor, D'Arcy Neller, left her initials on a metal plate that would soon be fastened to the ship's keel, then a welder made that mark permanent.
As Petersen watched, she couldn't help but think about what this day would mean to her late husband.
"He would be very, very proud indeed. We know he's smiling down today when he sees this ceremony," Petersen said.
The keel authentication is the first major milestone in a destroyer's construction. It will take more than a year for the ship to be completed.