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7,000 Gather for Ship Commissioning

August 22, 1987

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ More than 7,000 people came to the banks of the Delaware River on Saturday to see a guided missile cruiser commissioned, the first ship come to life in Philadelphia in 17 years.

Families of crew members, the ship’s builders and designers, and other well-wishers gathered under gray skies to see the commissioning of the USS Thomas S. Gates.

Confetti blasted out of torpedo tubes, general quarters alarms blew and the anti-air missile weaponry spun to face the crowd as the Navy showed off its newest $990 million cruiser.

Officials named the ship, which will lead the sophisticated Aegis ships in the Atlantic fleet, for the late Thomas S. Gates.

Gates, a native Philadelphian, served as Secretary of the Navy and later as Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower adminstration.

″Aegis is ‘Star Wars’ brought down to the surface of the sea,″ said John D. Rittenhouse, executive vice president for aerospace and defense at RCA, the principal architect of the ship’s Aegis weapons system.

Rittenhouse said that the ship, which was tested in the North Atlantic this winter, is ″already proven and practiced to be the most powerful and versatile ship in the world.″

The 567-foot cruiser, which was decked out in red, white and blue streamers, will be based in Norfolk, Va. Its primary mission will be to operate with aircraft battle groups in ″extreme threat″ environments, the Navy said.

The Gates will protect the fleet from air threats with a variety of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, ship-launched torpedoes, and anti- submarine rockets.

The commissioning ceremony highlighted the Maritime America weekend, which is part of the city’s celebration of the U.S. Constitution’s bicentennial.

Michelle Bitting said she won’t know where her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Tom Bitting, will be until he the ship finishes its assignment.

″I’m worried about him,″ Ms. Bitting said. ’They won’t tell us where he’s going.″

Similar cruisers are in the Persian Gulf now and protected the fleet during the air strike against Libya. Thirty-seven seamen aboard the USS Stark were killed May 17 in the Persian Gulf in a missile attack.

Capt. Robert Sutton, the ship’s captain, was officially appointed at the ceremony. Sutton said the Navy wife had the toughest job in the Navy.

″Hang in there. We’re coming home,″ Sutton told the crowd.

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