WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of the U.S. Navy’s newest towing, rescue and salvage ships is being named the “Cherokee Nation” to honor the service and contributions the Cherokee people have made to the Navy and Marine Corps.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer announced Friday that Gulf Island Shipyards has been awarded a $64.8 million contract to build the vessel, scheduled for completion by 2021.

The Navy says the contract includes an option for six additional vessels, each to be named in honor of a prominent Native American or tribe.

Navy officials say it’s the fifth U.S. ship to be named in honor of the Cherokee people and the first since a World War II-era tugboat dubbed the Cherokee.

The tugboat Cherokee (AT-66) at anchor. (A gift of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection, now in the collections of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
The tugboat Cherokee (AT-66) at anchor. (A gift of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection, now in the collections of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

Navy Times editor’s note: Based on existing commercial towing designs, Cherokee is being built to replace the Powhatan-class fleet ocean tugs (T-ATF 166) and the two rescue and salvage ships Grasp (Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea) and Salvor (Pacific Ocean) operated by U.S. Military Sealift Command. Cherokee Nation is the second vessel in its class (T-ATS 7). Workers will build the vessel in Houma, Louisiana.

In his prepared remarks, Navy Secretary Spencer lauded the many Cherokee Nation citizens who’ve served in uniform and predicted that the new vessel “will expand our capabilities and form a critical backbone for the strength and readiness of the entire fleet.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker praised the Navy for recognizing the generations of Cherokee men and women who “bravely and humbly sacrificed for our freedom today.”

“Our Cherokee people have contributed in every major battle and war ever fought in this country, and continue to serve in the armed forces in some of the highest rates per ethnicity. Cherokees are a strong, resilient people and we are privileged to have a U.S. ship at sea that reflects both our country and tribe’s history and values.”

In 1966, South Carolina Cherokee Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James E. Williams killed an unknown number of Viet Cong guerrillas while destroying 65 vessels and disrupting their logistic operation in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the three-hour battle. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
In 1966, South Carolina Cherokee Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James E. Williams killed an unknown number of Viet Cong guerrillas while destroying 65 vessels and disrupting their logistic operation in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the three-hour battle. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)