DDG-137 To Be Named USS John F. Lehman

The Naval Historical Foundation (NHF) congratulates NHF Board of Directors Member, the Honorable Dr. John F. Lehman, on the announcement that an Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyer is to be named in his honor. This special recognition for our 65th Secretary of the Navy was announced on our Navy’s 245th Birthday by Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite. This well-deserved recognition was included in the Secretary’s remarks as he also unveiled the Navy’s intentions to build a replacement flagship Navy Museum in the vicinity of the Washington Navy Yard. In addition to naming a destroyer for Lehman, Braithwaite also took pleasure in announcing that the next Virginia-class attack boat would be named after the famed World War II-era submarine USS Barb (SS 220). As most Virginia-class submarines have been named for states, the selection of Barb was clearly intended as one final tribute to the exploits of the World War II generation of submariners, showcased last Saturday in the NHF webinar “Captain Ned Beach: Run Silent Run Deep.”

As for naming a destroyer for Lehman, the 77th Navy Secretary drew parallels to the present from the 1980s, when a young John F. Lehman took the helm of the Navy department, and drove a recapitalization effort focused on a threatening Soviet Union with a maritime strategy supported by a 600 ship Navy. With an emerging trans-Pacific superpower on the horizon, Braithwaite calls for a similar sea power commitment. Like Braithwaite, Lehman was a naval reserve officer. There was one difference though – unlike the current Secretary who retired from the Navy Reserve as a rear admiral, Lehman continued as a drilling reservist throughout his tenure leading Evan Thomas to observe: “A modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, Lehman not only sent the fleet into enemy waters, he sailed with it―flying off carriers in the back seat of a warplane.”

Thomas was not the only one to draw parallels to Roosevelt, who served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the onset of the Spanish-American War and whose book The Naval War of 1812 is the subject of NHF’s November Second Saturday webinar. The former Senior Historian of the Navy Edward Marolda observed: “Not since Theodore Roosevelt has a civilian leader of the U.S. Navy had as great an impact on the promotion and study of naval history as former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman.” 
Serving as Secretary of the Navy from 1981-1987, Lehman reflected on his tenure in his books Command of the Seas (2001) and Oceans Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea. (2018). Of the latter book, the late Senator John McCain wrote:John Lehman has given us another naval classic in Oceans Ventured―the incredible story of the Navy’s central role in winning the Cold War. Based upon meticulous research and newly declassified documents, Lehman’s fresh account has the grip of a well-crafted adventure novel. His perspective is uniquely authoritative: he was a key architect of American strategy, a crucial figure in its execution, and an active participant as a qualified naval aviator. A must-read.Regarding Lehman’s role in winning the Cold War at sea, Marolda concurs writing: “”No secretary of the Navy did more than John Lehman to build a powerful, globe-spanning fleet that ruled the waves in the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union.”  

While naming a destroyer for Lehman seems fitting given that other recently named destroyers honor other Navy Secretaries such as USS Nitze and USS Paul Ignatius, Capt. Peter Swartz who served in Lehman’s secretariat noted one of Lehman’s accomplishments when he lamented:        “Yes it’s a great honor and well-deserved…But I’d have rather seen them name a carrier after him and another after James L. Holloway, as a one-time two-carrier buy – Lehman’s signature acquisition affordability initiative – twice!”

The Naval Historical Foundation again offers warmest congratulations to our esteemed colleague Secretary Lehman: architect of the 600 ship Navy, AEGIS, SSN-21, recommissioning of four Battleships, author, scholar and major contributor to the end of the Cold War. 

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