On June 17, the crew of the guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald unfurled a special flag they designed to honor the seven sailors killed on that date two years earlier in a collision off the coast of Japan.
Bearing the famous Navy order “Don’t give up the ship,” the banner included the names of the seven sailors under the phrase “Forever with the Fightin’ Fitz.”
“Fitzgerald’s crew designed this flag from scratch as a way to embody those shipmates we lost,” Fitzgerald’s executive officer Cmdr. Scott Wilbur said in a Navy press release. “It will be flown every year on 17 June to honor them and to never forget their sacrifice. The current crew continues to live out that motto while bringing the ship back to the Fleet.”
On the evening of June 17, 2017, the Philippine-flagged container vessel ACX Crystal speared the Fitzgerald while the warship was sailing to the South China Sea.
A gash in the hull flooded seawater into the destroyer’s Berthing 2 living quarters. Sailors Xavier Martin, Dakota Rigsby, Shingo Douglass, Tan Huynh, Noe Hernandez, Carlos Sibayan and Gary Rehm drowned.
The tragedy unleashed sweeping reforms to the way the Navy trains its officers and crews and maintains surface vessels, especially in the Japan-based 7th Fleet.
Although the Fitz’s commanding officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson and his subordinate Lt. Natalie Combs faced court-martial trials for their alleged roles in the disaster, claims of unlawful command influence by senior Navy leaders tainted their cases, which were dismissed.
On April 16, the warship was launched from dry dock at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, following extensive repairs and modifications expected to top $533 million, according to Pentagon contract listings.
First uttered by the mortally wounded Capt. James Lawrence in 1813 while he commanded the frigate Chesapeake against the British warship Shannon, “Don’t give up the ship” is an enduring slogan in the U.S. Navy.
Lawrence’s dying words were stitched onto a blue banner flown by his friend, Oliver Hazard Perry, on board his flagship Niagara in the same year during his great victory against the British on Lake Erie.
Fitz’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Garrett Miller, expressed similar sentiments about his crew’s devotion to the Navy.
“I am proud of this flag and proud of our shipmates who helped design it, as it is a product of respect and professionalism that symbolizes their great service and sacrifice,” he said.