PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The Ralph Johnson is now in the hands of the U.S. Navy.
On Wednesday, Ingalls Shipbuilding delivered the DDG 51 guided missile destroyer to eager sailors. For many of the shipbuilders, it's like seeing a child grow up and leave home.
"It's exactly like losing a child when it goes away," said Freddie O'Brien, ship program manager. "I've spent the last year of my life on this ship, along with 300, 400, 500 of my fellow shipbuilders. Love doing this."
The multi-mission destroyer can sail anywhere in the world.
It was named for Ralph Johnson, a 19-year-old Marine Medal of Honor recipient who sacrificed himself to save others around him during the Vietnam War.
"I've been associated with this ship for almost two years now," said Cmdr. Jason Patterson. "You develop close ties with your namesake and you really understand the story. I've gotten to know the Johnson family and it means a lot. It's trying to embody the same spirit that Ralph had in the ship and the crew."
The crew will be moving aboard in about two weeks for training and certification before it leaves for commissioning on March 24 in Johnson's hometown of Charleston, S.C. Its eventual home port will be in Everette, Wash.
D'Iberville native William Watkins is gunners mate chief, and his primary responsibility is to handle the largest gun system in the U.S. Navy.
"When it's able to shoot an 80-pound projectile miles away, on target, it's an awesome weapon," Watkins said.
He is also inspired by the story of Ralph Johnson.
"When you give your life for your country and also your friends....there are no words for it," he said.
The fact that his new ship was built in his own backyard makes it even more special to Watkins.
"Being on this ship that's built in my hometown, means a lot," Watkins said. "Everybody wants to bring a piece of home when they go on deployment."
This likely the last ship O'Brian builds. He'll be retiring in 2018. But when he hears the name the Ralph Johnson, where ever it might be, he will have a strong reaction.
"We built that," he said. "My heart is in that ship."