SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. Navy’s plan to name a cargo ship after the late farmworker activist Cesar Chavez received sharp criticism from a California Republican congressman who on Tuesday said the decision was unfair to military war heroes.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he learned of the matter from Navy officials, who have not made their plans public yet. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is expected to announce the decision on Wednesday when he visits the facilities of General Dynamic NASSCO in San Diego’s mostly Hispanic neighborhood, Barrio Logan.
“Naming a ship after Cesar Chavez goes right along with other recent decisions by the Navy that appear to be more about making a political statement than upholding the Navy’s history and tradition,” said Hunter, a former Marine.
Chavez, himself, joined the Navy in 1946 and served two years before being honorably discharged, and two of his cousins were killed fighting in WWII.
Hunter was among five dozen House lawmakers who criticized the Navy over a recent decision that would have allowed chaplains to perform same sex-unions in states where gay marriage is legal. The Navy abruptly reversed that decision.
Hunter said a better choice for the last of the 14 Lewis and Clark-class cargo ships would be Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor for action in Iraq — or WWII Medal of Honor recipient John Finn, a lifelong San Diego resident.
The other 13 cargo ships built by NASSCO for the Navy have been named after such notable Americans as explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and famed aviator Amelia Earhart. Chavez would be the first Mexican-American in that group.
The boat builder’s spokesman, James Gill, said NASSCO suggested the name to the Navy because it wanted to honor its mostly Hispanic workforce and the neighborhood where it is located. Navy officials declined to comment Tuesday on Hunter’s remarks.
Chavez, who died in 1993 at the age of 66, is credited with helping to secure a U.S. law that recognized farmworkers’ rights to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining.
Marc Grossman, a spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, knew Chavez for 24 years and said he was a humble man who would never have wanted the spotlight.
“He was always uncomfortable being singled out for praise because he knew there were many Cesar Chavezes — farmworkers who made great sacrifices and accomplished great things but who were unknown,” he said. “So the Chavez family today acknowledges this honor in the name of all Latinos who have built this country and served this country in the armed services.”
Barrio Logan on San Diego’s waterfront near the Coronado Bridge came about in 1871 when Congressman John A. Logan wrote legislation to provide federal land grants for a transcontinental railroad ending in San Diego. Logan’s project never happened but a street in the area was named after him, and later the zone became known as Barrio Logan when an influx of Mexicans moved into the area after that country’s 1910 Revolution.
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