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Navy launches new ship: the USNS Charles Drew

Bebe Drew Price breaks a champagne bottle against the USNS Charles Drew as Charlene Drew Jarvis looks on. (Ken Wright/General Dynamics)

There are schools and medical clinics named after surgeon Charles Drew, but he received his biggest honor Saturday -- fittingly, during Black History Month -- when a 689-foot Navy ship was named after the African American medical pioneer.

The USNS Charles Drew was christened by his three surviving children and splashed into San Diego Bay. "It was an extraordinary honor," said his daughter, former D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis. "The whole weekend has been emotional because I was a 9-year-old girl when my father died."

The vessel was named after Drew for his groundbreaking work in storing and transferring blood, which saved untold lives in World War II. The Washington native died in 1950 from severe injuries in a car accident, not -- despite persistent urban myths -- from being denied hospital care because he was black. He was only 45, but already a nationally recognized figure.

The USNS Charles Drew. (Courtesy of the Drew family)

In 2008, Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter selected Drew to join ships named after other explorers and pioneers: Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, Alan Shepard, Robert Peary, Amelia Earhart, Carl Brashear and Wally Schirra.

Saturday's formal launch included the entire Drew clan, Howard University surgeon LaSalle Leffall, and a speech from Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Then Bebe Drew Price, the oldest of the three Drew sisters, swung the traditional bottle of champagne. "She absolutely smashed it!" Jarvis told us. "But the most extraordinary part was seeing the Charles Drew slip into San Diego Bay."

The supply ship will deliver food, ammunition and fuel to combat ships at sea. No word when she'll sail into Washington; the Navy hasn't announced if the Drew will be based on the East or West Coast.

By The Reliable Source  |  March 1, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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