Secretary of the Navy announces naming of transport ship after city

It was an Independence Day celebration for the record books, highlighted by a surprise announcement from the highest reaches of the nation’s military.

On July 3, following a typical robust parade of locals from Lafayette Park to Riverfront Park, led by grand marshal Myrtis Wynn, a retired Army first sergeant, the swelling crowd downtown began to murmur in excitement.

On a place card at one of the tables on the docks set up by Main Street for sponsors of the annual Independence Day event read “Secretary of the Navy.”

Something was up.

As free ice cream was given out, and people spread out blankets and lawn chairs to take in the grand fireworks display, up drove a small caravan from Tyndall Air Force Base. Out stepped Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and his wife Polly, and they were greeted by Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson, Main Street Director Augusta West and board chair Jim Bachrach, and ushered to their table.

There they would greet a host of local dignitaries, from retired Navy Rear Admiral Mark Milliken, and his wife retired Cmdr. Elizabeth Zingarelli Milliken, to City Commissioner Jimmy Elliott, whose career in the Army stretched from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and through a bevy of well-wishers. No doubt the those veterans may have chatted about Spencer’s years as a Marine aviator, or his later years on Wall Street.

As the music of Southern Flood, and later the Bo Spring Band, filled the air, the party grew festive, and just before 8 p.m. the event’s formalities began.

Jason Shoaf, the area’s newly elected state representative addressed the crowd, followed by a prayer from Valentina Webb, who serves on the Main Street board. Webb kicked off a “pass the boot” fundraiser for the Apalachicola Volunteer Fire Department, followed by the singing of “God Bless America” by Gordon Adkins.

Elizabeth Milliken then delivered a veterans’ tribute (see sidebar), and the Bo Spring Band served up a plaintive version of “America the Beautiful,” and later “The Star Spangled Banner.”

With the stage now fully set, Johnson introduced Spencer, flanked by city and county elected officials.

“The city of Apalachicola is one of the most historic cities in Florida, with foundations rooted in the maritime industry and support for a strong Navy and Marine Corps team,” said Spencer. “I am pleased that the history, culture, and spirit of this city will live on in the future USNS Apalachicola.”

The future USNS Apalachicola is the second ship named in honor of the city of Apalachicola; the first, a large harbor tug (YTB-767), served from 1965-2002. The most recent naming is part of a program designed to honor small cities throughout the nation.

Spencer, who attended Rollins College in central Florida, told how he and his wife have traveled through the county with their travel trailer on a trip from their home in Wyoming, enjoying meals at the Owl Café and fresh seafood from 13 Mile.

He offered a hearty welcome come to the Vietnam vets in the audience, and said the nation’s armed forces have been bolstered and strengthened over the last couple years. Scattered shouts of praise for President Trump were voiced from the audience.

The Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) is a shallow draft, all aluminum, commercial-based catamaran that is designed for High Speed Intra-Theater Surface Lift. It serves in a variety of roles for the military branches to include support of overseas contingency operations, conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions and supporting special operations forces.

Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama, is under contract to build the new EPF, which will be 338 feet in length, have a waterline beam of 93.5 feet, displace approximately 2,362 tons and can operate at speeds of 35-plus knots.

“I am both grateful and honored that the city of Apalachicola, a small, rural costal community along Florida’s Forgotten Coast has been chosen to receive such a distinct recognition by the United States Navy,” said Johnson, in a news release. “This recognition speaks volumes about Apalachicola’s significance as an historic port city and its hardworking, dedicated and resilient residents.

“I am proud of our community and sincerely pray that when called into action to provide assistance, relief and support to those in need, that the USNS Apalachicola and its crew will rise to the occasion and exemplify the true essence of the people who live and work in this unique and historic port city,” he said.

Following Spencer’s remarks, he presented the mayor privately with a pair of cufflink emblazoned with the Navy’s insignia.

The fireworks over the shimmering Apalachicola River were again spectacular, thanks to the generosity of local individuals and businesses.

On July 4, the festivities continued with the water-soaked giddy fun parade on St. George Island, with the evening featuring a firework display.

On Friday evening, Carrabelle’s downtown was filled with celebration with the city’s fireworks display.