By Taylor Skardon, Captain USN (Ret.), Commissioning Committee, Guest Contributor
The military side of Charleston SC is a large piece of this city's identity and history - a reminder lives right in Charleston Harbor everyday - The U.S.S. Yorktown. In the New Year, we have the opportunity to be a part of history at an event that very few people get to witness over their lifetime - a time honored tradition of a ship's commissioning. If you don't know much about Private First Class Ralph Johnson, how he received The Medal of Honor, and why this new Naval ship will be named after him, here's a look at his story.
On March 24, 2018 the Navy will commission its newest destroyer, USS Ralph Johnson, at the Columbus Street pier in Charleston SC. The ship is named for Private First Class Ralph Johnson who grew up here in Charleston. I don’t know how much you know about Ralph other than the VA Medical Center bears his name, but his courage and military contribution are certainly something to honor.
Being from a large family, Ralph’s early days were spent with his grandparents off Highway 61 where he attended St. Phillips AME Church. When he reached school age he moved downtown with his parents who lived on Coming Street - just a couple of doors down from the College of Charleston’s Museum of Natural History. He attended Courtenay Elementary School on upper Meeting Street (now the site of Charleston Progressive School) and Simonton Jr. High School which was bounded by Morris, Jasper, Marion and Smith Streets. Instead of going to high school he joined the Job Corps program. At the age of 18 he answered his country’s call and joined the Marines.
Just after turning 19, Ralph found himself serving in Vietnam with the Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. The job of Recon units is to go behind enemy lines and report any activity – as you can imagine, dangerous work. During a mission on March 5, 1968 his unit’s position was discovered by the enemy who then attacked repeatedly with a much larger force. During one of the attacks a grenade was thrown into the “fighting hole” he shared with two other Marines. Without hesitation, Ralph shouted for the others to get back while he threw himself on the explosive device. As you can imagine, Ralph was killed when the grenade exploded, but those whose lives were saved were able to hold the defensive perimeter and keep the enemy from overrunning and killing the remaining members of his patrol. For his selfless and heroic actions, Ralph was awarded our nation’s highest military decoration – The Medal of Honor.
As mentioned above, the Navy and our Country will honor Ralph’s sacrifice and service with the commissioning of the USS Ralph Johnson. If you have never attended a ship’s commissioning, it is a time honored ceremony steeped in Naval tradition that signifies the ship becoming a member of the Fleet. It is truly a patriotic, family event not many people get to witness.
Those desiring to attend the ceremony must have tickets issued by the Navy. These tickets are FREE to the general public and the process to receive a ticket is easy. BUT, in order to receive tickets in time, those desiring to attend must register before the end of the year (December 31, 2017). Here are the steps to follow:
1) Go to www.navyleaguecharleston.org.
2) Select “Go to the ship’s page” on the picture of the ship.
3) Once you get to the ship’s page, click on the tab under the picture labeled “Invitations.”
4) At the bottom of the “Invitations” page fill in the required fields and click submit.
After the first of the year we will close down this "Invitations" page and send the database to the Navy who will then mail an invitation to those who have registered. The invitation will tell the recipient how to RSVP. Once the Navy receives the RSVP, they will send the tickets in the mail. Again, those who desire to attend the ceremony must have tickets issued by the Navy.
I have had the good fortune to learn what a good person Ralph was – he had an infectious laugh; a personality that made people to want to be around him; and is remembered fondly by his fellow Marines as being on his "rack" between missions studying his bible. His actions, though heroic, were not a surprise to those close to him and knew the positive influence his family, faith and community played in his life.
Note: Discover Charleston and a experience a piece of history when you attend the US naval ship naming on March 24th to remember and pay tribute to this fine young American whose life represented the best in all of us! And, if attending this important ceremony has you traveling to Charleston, you can learn more about the Holy City in our FREE guide to discovering Charleston ...