The Navy will christen its newest roll-on/roll-off cargo ship, the USNS Watkins
(T-AKR 315), on Friday, July 28, 2000, during a 6:45 p.m. PDT ceremony at National Steel and Shipbuilding, San Diego, Calif.
Pennsylvania Congressman John P. Murtha will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Dianne Watkins Branch, daughter of the ship's namesake, and Anne Sullivan de Leon, wife of Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon, will serve as ship co-sponsors. In the time-honored Navy tradition, the co-sponsors will break a bottle of champagne across the bow to formally name the ship.
The ship will be named the USNS Watkins (T-AKR 315) to honor Army Master Sgt. Travis E. Watkins, (1920-1950), awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his gallant leadership when an overwhelming enemy force broke through and isolated 30 men from his unit in Korea from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, 1950. After taking command of the surrounded position, Watkins moved from foxhole to foxhole shouting instructions and encouragement to his men. When the need for ammunition became acute, he shot two enemy soldiers 50 yards outside the perimeter and was wounded while recovering their weapons. He then killed three other soldiers who were firing at him and returned with the weapons of all five enemy soldiers. When enemy soldiers gained a position from which they hurled grenades into the perimeter, Watkins rose from his foxhole to engage them, and despite being immediately hit by a burst of machine gun fire, he continued to fire, killing the assailants. Paralyzed from the waist down, he refused food to save it for his fellow soldiers. When the situation became hopeless, he ordered his men to leave him and escape to friendly lines. His small force killed nearly 500 of the enemy before abandoning their position. No previous ship has been named Watkins.
A non-combatant vessel, the USNS Watkins is the sixth in the Watson class of large, medium speed, roll-on/roll-off sealift ships. It will be crewed by civilian mariners, and operated by the Navy's Military Sealift Command, Washington, D.C. Its roll-on/roll-off design makes it ideal for transporting helicopters, tanks, and other wheeled and tracked military vehicles. The ship will have approximately 390,000 square feet of cargo carrying space. Watkins is 950 feet in length, has a beam of 105.8 feet and displaces approximately 62,000 long tons. The gas turbine-powered ship will be able to sustain speeds up to 24 knots.