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Commissioning of USS Bulkeley
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, New York, New York , Saturday, December 08, 2001

Gordon [England, Secretary of the Navy], thank you for that very warm introduction. Truly it's an honor for me to be able to be here today to represent President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld at the commissioning of another great naval ship. Commander Del Toro, officers and members of the crew of the Bulkeley, many other distinguished guests that are here, including the veterans who join us today. And I'd like to extend a special welcome to those veterans for whom yesterday, December 7th, 60 years ago, marked the beginning of their wartime service. Also a very warm welcome to Alice Bulkeley and her family, who weathered over five decades of adventurous Navy life in war and in peace. We salute you all for your service to our country and we thank you for your role in sponsoring this mighty ship.

Mayor [of New York Rudolph] Giuliani, six months ago on Memorial Day, you and I stood just a few yards from this spot to pay tribute to the brave service of America's veterans. We were on the flight deck of Intrepid, a ship whose crew came through torpedo attacks and kamikaze attacks, proving that they were as intrepid as their ship was tough.

Since that Memorial Day, America has watched New York City come through its own Pearl Harbor. Like the sailors and Marines who served aboard Intrepid, New Yorkers have shown the world that they are not only tough, but intrepid as well. As the dictionary says, "outstandingly courageous, fearless." And New Yorkers have shown that behind that well-known veneer of toughness, there is an enormous capacity for compassion and caring for their fellow citizens.

It's often been said that tough times call for tough leaders, and Mr. Mayor, you have been tough and compassionate—traits that the world has now associated with New York. [Applause.]

I think it's a privilege for all of us to be here for the commissioning of a ship that will join our great Navy as an indispensable force for peace and freedom in the world. The USS Bulkeley deploys the most advanced weapon systems afloat today. She also demonstrates the power that only a free nation can generate. This newest Aegis destroyer is the product of the great partnership between government and industry that is crucial to the defense of our country and to peace and freedom in the world.

Not so long ago the ship behind me and her crew took part in the time-honored tradition of christening—conferring a name and a title on a structure of wood, rivets and steel, and establishing a partnership with those who will sail her into harm's way.

Over the past couple of years, since the christening, the men and women of the Bulkeley have strengthened this partnership with their sweat and their meticulous care, guiding their ship through her first sea trials, taking her from a concept to a living, breathing ship of the fleet.

Today as the commissioning crew of the Bulkeley, the crew will acquire the distinguished naval title of "plank owner"—a tradition going back to the days of the wooden sailing ships. The commissioning crew of the Bulkeley will retain those honors and prestige throughout their lives and each plank owner is owed a clear, free, open and unencumbered title to one plank of the deck upon the ship's decommissioning.

Indeed, for the first crew of the Bulkeley, this is your day and we salute you. [Applause.]

When a ship is named, the name is never chosen lightly. The name forms the heart of a ship's identity. This ship bears the name of a man whose service over the course of an incredible 55 years in the U.S. Navy, displayed the same traits of character that define this city which was his hometown.

New York City is known for its creativity, for being on the cutting edge of innovation. And New Yorkers have long been known for their toughness. And in recent days the world has seen the bravery of New Yorkers and the concern for their fellow citizens.

By this measure, John Duncan Bulkeley was a true New Yorker, a man embodying all of those traits. He was caring and innovative and there is no question he was tough. In fact, the name that he came to be known by in the Navy was Sea Wolf. I understand that immediately after September 11th there was some thought given to whether this ceremony should continue to be held here—concern about protecting the ship and those of you who have come here today. But it's easy to imagine what John Bulkeley would have said about that. Pass up a chance to see a ship of the United States Navy come to life in defiance of those who want to take away life and freedom? Move this ceremony? "Not on your life!" he would surely say.

There is no more fitting place to commission this ship, here within the shadow of Lady Liberty and within walking distance of Ground Zero. In doing so, we honor the tough old Sea Wolf who repeatedly showed throughout his career that he was not afraid to stand up to anyone who threatened our freedom.

Through a career that spanned more than five decades of active duty service, John Bulkeley was tough in standing up for his Navy and his nation. His exploits made him a living legend.

In the first weeks of World War II with most of the Pacific fleet wiped out and nothing but bad news coming from the Pacific, Lieutenant Bulkeley and his men changed all that when they sank a Japanese cruiser. And they kept up the fight. With little or no spare parts, ammunition or food, their motor torpedo boats repeatedly and unhesitatingly attacked Japanese ships in the Philippines, sustaining their operations for four months and seven days with almost no support except their own ingenuity and daring.

With Corregidor under siege and Japanese forces closing in, Bulkeley's PT boats spirited General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and the President of the Philippines through 600 miles of seas infested with enemy warships. By MacArthur's own reckoning, they snatched the commander of U.S. forces "out of the jaws of death."

That heroic action in the Pacific earned the young sailor the Congressional Medal of Honor, the admiration of our nation, and a ticker tape parade here in his hometown, right down Broadway. A crowd of more than a million people turned out to honor Lieutenant Bulkeley and his crew. And while here it may not surprise you, a theatrical agent smelling something approached Bulkeley to see if he would be interested in making stage appearances in theater here. Big money in it, he told Bulkeley. But the young hero told the agent that the only theater he was interested in playing was the theater in Tokyo.

However, Commander Bulkeley did go on to play another theater, the European Theater, commanding a destroyer named Endicott. A month after D-Day, with only one of Endicott's guns working, he attacked two German corvettes at point blank range and sank them both. Afterwards he said, "As long as we had even one gun left I was going to attack. That's what's expected of a United States Navy officer and warship."

When America faced a growing crisis in this hemisphere, Admiral Bulkeley took that same toughness to Cuba in 1963 to command Guantanamo Naval Base and face off with Fidel Castro. He cut the water line that Castro had turned off and vowed that we would never again depend on Cuba as a water source. To this day, we don't.

Like a lot of other New Yorkers, though, Admiral Bulkeley's toughness was matched by his caring for the people in his community—his sailors and his Marines. From his early backbreaking days aboard a coal-burning ship in China, he had learned that improving the safety and overall running of a ship saves lives. Through 21 years of service as head of the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey, Admiral Bulkeley attacked the job of ensuring that our ships were fit for combat with the same fervor that he had shown in combat.

According to his son Peter who is here with us today and who is himself a 30-year veteran of the Navy, his father's main goal was to improve the lives of his sailors and Marines. And through his exacting standards, he did.

He often singled out a deserving sailor who had maintained a system well above fleet standards and he would personally award commendation medals and read a citation that he had personally prepared.

He knew in detail the workings and peculiarities of nearly every ship in the fleet—at that time more than 600 of them. And much to the chagrin of some, there wasn't much that escaped his notice.

There is no doubt that this man helped save countless lives. It is a legacy that extends to the sailors and Marines who will man the Bulkeley today.

And as John Bulkeley was tough and caring, he was also innovative. As is so often the case, innovation is not just about new technology. It is about using old things in new ways that have new and dramatic impacts. We see that in Afghanistan today where brave members of our Special Forces literally mounted on horseback have combined 50-year-old B-52 bombers with 19th Century horse cavalry to create a truly 21st Century military capability.

John Bulkeley had that same ability to solve problems and innovate new solutions, a trait he relied on from the very start of his naval career.

He had always wanted to attend the Naval Academy but all the appointments in his district were gone, so he had to find some other way to get there. The Bulkeley family owned some land in Texas, so young John went to Washington and found the congressman from that district in Texas and talked him into an appointment from the Lone Star State. Problem solved. The Texan from New York was on his way.

In the Philippines, he and the men in his PT boat squadron fought on despite a lack of spare parts, repair facilities and fuel -- making things work by clever innovation. His Medal of Honor citation notes not only his daring and his gallantry, but also his unique resourcefulness and ingenuity.

When he was in charge of the Navy's Board of Inspections and Survey, his solution to significant problems that could affect the fleet was an invention that came to be known as "Dear John" letters that he sent to a mailing list that included most of the senior Navy leadership. Those letters ended with the phrase, "just thought you'd like to know about this," and they became legendary for getting the job done.

In one example, John Bulkeley insisted that emergency escape breathing devices be installed on every ship in the fleet. Good idea, but too expensive, he was told. But he didn't quit. He fought to get them. And as usually happened when John Bulkeley fought for something, he won. Those devices were put on every ship and he lived to see the difference it made when the USS Stark, the frigate, came under Iraqi missile attack in the Persian Gulf in 1987. Thirty-seven sailors perished in that tragedy, but many more would have died from the smoke and flames were it not for the breathing devices that John Bulkeley had put on board.

The motto of this new ship is "Freedom's Torch." John Duncan Bulkeley carried freedom's torch with honor and made the Navy better for generations to come.

The generation that now takes up freedom's torch takes our story full circle. Carlos del Toro left communist Cuba as a child, came to this country, attended the Naval Academy and rose through the ranks to take command of the Navy's newest destroyer. That story is in itself a testament to the promise of our nation and to Carlos Del Toro's own tough fighting spirit. And it probably didn't hurt that, like John Bulkeley himself, Carlos Del Toro grew up in New York City. [Applause.]

I'll conclude by mentioning one other distinguished New Yorker, a former President and a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, by the way, Teddy Roosevelt, who once captured why it is so important for our country to maintain our armed forces as second to none. He said, "We Americans have many grave problems to solve, many threatening evils to fight, and many deeds to do if, as we hope and believe, we have the wisdom, the strength, the courage and the virtue to do them. But we must face facts as they are. Our nation," he said 100 years ago, "is the one among all nations of the earth which holds in its hands the fate of the coming years."

That was true in Teddy Roosevelt's time, it was true on December 7, 1941, it was true on September 11, 2001, and it will be true throughout the service of the proud ship we are commissioning today.

I would like to thank all of you who have made the Bulkeley live and breathe. Like the man for whom she is named, like the men and women in uniform serving our nation so faithfully and so nobly today, this ship will be a force for peace and freedom.

May God bless this ship, may God bless her crew, may God bless our great Navy, and may God bless America. [Applause.]