New Navy Ship Honors Army Hero
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 10, 1998 Pauline Harrison couldn't harness her emotions or fight back tears during ceremonies christening a Navy ship in her son's name.
Overcome with grief and sad memories, Harrison sobbed as a 950-foot-long cargo ship was christened the USNS Seay on June 20 at Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans. Because the ship will be used to pre-position tons of Army equipment afloat, Navy officials decided to name the vessel in honor of a soldier. They chose Army Sgt. William "Bill" Seay, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action in Vietnam on Aug. 25, 1968.
Seay's name already graces five military parade fields, two tugboats, two officers barracks, a training center, a movie theater and a shopping mall. This new recognition has caused mixed feelings for his family.
"It refreshes the memory that he's gone, and that's painful. But God has reasons for doing things and we're not to question that," Harrison said later.
"It's a very sad thing, but I'm glad Billy hasn't been forgotten," said Seay's sister, Sarah Lee, who was 23 when her 19-year-old brother was killed. "When they do these things every few years, there's no way he can be forgotten. We try to see the positive side."
Seay had been a driver in the 62nd Transportation Medium Truck Company, 7th Transportation Battalion, 48th Transportation Group, near Ap Hi, Vietnam. While on a resupply mission, his unit came under intense rocket, machine gun and automatic weapon fire from a reinforced North Vietnamese army battalion.
"He didn't just defend. As enemy fire intensified, so to did his response," said Air Force Gen. Walter Kross, commander, U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., at the christening ceremony. Seay picked off a sniper. Then as grenades rained down on him and his buddies, he repeatedly rose from cover and, braving enemy fire, pitched the grenades back, killing several of the enemy.
"Painfully wounded, he continued to return fire and encouraged his fellow soldiers until he detected three enemy soldiers penetrating his position, preparing to fire on his comrades," Kross said. "Without thought for his own safety, in severe pain and with only his left hand usable, he stood and took them under fire, killing all three of them." Seay fell mortally wounded from a sniper bullet.
The Navy Military Sealift Command will operate the USNS Seay. The ship's roll-on/roll-off design enables fast, easy loading and unloading of up to 1,000 Army helicopters, tanks, trucks and other military vehicles. USNS Seay is 950 feet in length, has a beam of 105 feet, and displaces about 62,000 tons fully loaded. The diesel-powered ship has about 380,000 square feet of cargo space and can sustain speeds up to 24 knots.
The USNS Seay is the third of the four cargo ships being built by Avondale that are being named for Medal of Honor recipients. The first two honor Army Medal of Honor recipients Master Sgt. Gary I. Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shughart, who died in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993 while trying to rescue a downed Army helicopter crew. The USNS Shughart was christened on May 7, 1996, and the USNS Gordon, on July 4, 1996.
The fourth ship in the series is scheduled to be christened Oct. 2, 1998, in honor of Spc. Larry G. Dahl, who was decorated posthumously for throwing himself on a grenade to save his friends in Vietnam on Feb. 23, 1971.