DOVER, Del. — The skies have long been home to massive cargo aircraft from Dover Air Force Base, including the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III fleet, which have their home city’s name “Dover” emblazoned proudly on their tails.
That was one of several things that got Tony DePrima, a Navy veteran and former Dover city manager, interested in having a Navy ship bear the name "USS Dover," to give the capital of the First State a presence on the wide-open seas.
Mr. DePrima said it's been a long time — 74 years to be exact — since the U.S. Navy has had a ship named in honor of Dover, and even that one, which was recommissioned, never made the active fleet.
Mr. DePrima is on a mission to change that. His latest stop was before members of Dover City Council on July 8 as he gave a presentation inside Council Chambers at City Hall as to why a Navy ship should be adorned with the name Dover.
“I think by the time I’m done with my presentation you’ll see that this is very long overdue,” said Mr. DePrima, before he gave his nearly 15-minute case for a ship to honor Dover.
"How common is it to name ships after capital cities like ours, particularly ours being a very historic capital city, the capital of the First State, home of Dover Air Force Base and so many other important roles it has played in our history?
“It’s very common.”
It turned out Mr. DePrima’s original assumption was correct as Dover city council members quickly voted unanimously 9-0 after hearing his presentation to pass Resolution No. 2019-09, requesting the Secretary of the Navy to consider naming a vessel the Dover.
“I want to thank Mr. DePrima for your interest in bringing this forward to city council,” Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said. “I think it’s something that we definitely need to consider, and you have my support. I thank you for all the research that you’ve done on this matter.”
Council President Bill Hare was all for Mr. DePrima’s mission.
“Mr. DePrima has made this presentation to numerous Rotary Clubs and we have also written letters of support,” he said.
The resolution recalled Dover’s proud history in the founding of the United States of America, but also pointed out the city’s role in defending its freedom.
Part of the resolution stated, "Whereas, Delaware was home to 18 Medal of Honor recipients dating back to the Civil War, as well as 878 Gold Star Heroes, according to Military Families United. Dover Air Force Base is also located within the capital and plays an indispensable role in the global transportation network, as well as fulfilling the nations most sacred commitment at the Air Force Port Mortuary, Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, ensuring dignity, honor, and respect to all of the fallen heroes of the United States military who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country.
"Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Mayor and council request the Secretary of the Navy to consider naming a United States Naval Vessel, the USS Dover, in honor of Dover's rich history, the Medal of Honor recipients, and as a memorial to all who pass through Dover AFB's Port Mortuary on their final trip home."
Mr. DePrima has been on this mission for a couple of years now.
“I first got interested in this subject when I learned and read about the commissioning of the USS Delaware, which is a submarine that was christened last year and is in sea trials now,” he said. "It will be commissioned probably early next year, maybe even here in the Port of Wilmington in Delaware.
"The submarine replaced the battleship, the last USS Delaware, which was over 100 years ago. You can go over to the (Delaware) Public Archives and you can see the silver set that's there, it's remarkable, the ship's bell and the nameplate."
The story of the battleship Delaware got Mr. DePrima wondering if there had ever been a “USS Dover.”
So, he began researching naval ships named after state capitals and he learned that besides Frankfort, Kentucky, every state capital has at one time or another had a ship named after it, including Dover.
“My research found that there were 45 ships named after capital cities sometime in the fleet,” said Mr. DePrima. "Currently, there are 18 active ships in the fleet — 11 of them are submarines, four are littoral combat ships, modern-day patrol gunboats and three are fast transports.
"Only one capital city missed the boat and that was Frankfort, Kentucky. Then there was one that never actually made the active fleet — and that was the USS Dover. It served a short four years. It was a recommissioned ship."
(Navy Times editor’s note: We didn’t go through this entire list, but Michigan’s state capital, Lansing, isn’t really represented. The Edsall-class destroyer escort honored Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class William Henry Lansing. Serving as a plane captain, Lansing died in 1942 after he was struck by Japanese anti-aircraft fire during a dive bombing run in Kiska Harbor.)
Ironically, the 44-year-old gunboat turned training vessel on Lake Erie, was originally launched as the Wilmington in 1897.
However, on the eve of World War II, planners from the Navy decided they wanted to name a proposed gunboat after Wilmington — the state’s largest city — leaving the original vessel Wilmington without a name.
They eventually chose Dover.
“I like to say this was a hand-me-down ship from our big brother, the city of Wilmington,” Mr. DePrima said. “This ship served very honorably. It was commissioned right before the Spanish-American War, was homeported in Key West (Florida), it served in the Spanish-American War and was in at least three battle engagements in Cuba.”
After the ship was renamed Dover in January 1941, it also was given the IX-30 designation, used for an unclassified miscellaneous auxiliary ship. The ship was used primarily as a training vessel throughout WWII.
The recommissioned Dover never became a part of the Navy’s active fleet.
When the war came to an end, the Dover was decommissioned in December 1945, sold for scrap, and moved off to California in 1947.
When the Dover was stricken from the Navy’s list of ships, it was its oldest commissioned vessel, having spent more than 48 years afloat.
There are naval vessels named after state capitals, but the name Dover hasn’t been used since 1945. The Secretary of the Navy has the distinction of approving naval vessel names under the direction of the president and in accordance with congressional rules.
“The Navy suggests that congressional offices wishing to express support to contact the office of the secretary of the Navy, which I have already done, and requested support from our congressional team,” Mr. DePrima said.
"What it really needs is the actual city to come forward and say, 'We would like a ship named after our city, for all of the historical reasons.'
“Why hasn’t there ever been more of a presence on the USS Dover? I think nobody ever actually asked. I think it’s time to ask.”
The city of Dover officially supported a potential ship named Dover with its resolution on July 8 and now must wait to see how long Mr. DePrima — and the city’s — dream stays afloat.