It's time for a Navy ship to bear the name USS Dover, says former city manager Tony DePrima

It’s been a long time – 74 years – since the U.S. Navy has had a ship named in honor of Delaware’s capital city.

Former city manager Tony DePrima hopes to change that.

DePrima, a Navy veteran, gave a presentation May 2 to the Capital City Rotary Club where he advocated that one of six unnamed ships now under construction be christened USS Dover.

“I’m asking you all to come aboard for this,” DePrima said, acknowledging the naval pun. “I feel the city of Dover, capital of the First State, deserves this.”

Rotary members, including Mayor Robin Christiansen, quickly warmed to the idea as DePrima went over his plan, which includes enlisting the help of the congressional delegation. He has contacted Sen. Tom Carper’s office, and hopes the retired Navy captain supports the idea, he said.

Delawareans are awaiting the launch of USS Delaware, the first submarine to be named for the state. At the moment there’s nothing on the horizon for a USS Dover.

To bolster his case, DePrima began researching naval ships named after state capitals. DePrima learned that with one exception, every state capital has, at one time or another, had a ship named after it, including Dover. Only Frankfort, Kentucky has missed the boat.

There once was a ship named for Delaware’s capital. The 44-year-old gunboat turned training vessel was launched as USS Wilmington.

There now are more than a dozen naval vessels named after state capitals, but the name USS Dover has languished since 1945.

“Basically, the USS Dover was a hand-me-down from our big brother,” DePrima said.

On the eve of World War II, naval planners decided to name a proposed light cruiser after Delaware’s largest city, leading to the need give the original a new name. They chose Dover.

Some time later, there was a change of plans and the cruiser instead was named USS Cabot. Later, another ship to be named Wilmington was scrapped before completion.

A taste of battle

In his research, DePrima learned USS Wilmington was built in Newport News, Va., and launched in October 1895.

Designated as a gunboat, PG-8, the Wilmington took part in the Battle of Cardenas off the coast of Cuba, where the American navy was repulsed by Spanish forces defending the city. Three months later, in July 1898, the ship’s crew redeemed their reputation somewhat by steaming into Manzanillo harbor and destroying the Spanish fleet anchored there while taking care not to hit the city itself.

The ship was decommissioned in 1904 and recommissioned in 1906, remaining on duty in the Far East, near several Chinese ports. During World War I, it protected the Philippines from possible invasion by German forces.

Between the wars, the Wilmington served primarily as a training vessel on Lake Erie, calling Toledo home.

When the ship was renamed in January 1941 after Delaware’s capital city, it also was given the IX-30 designation, used for an unclassified miscellaneous auxiliary. The ship was primarily a training vessel throughout the war.

With the cessation of hostilities, it was decommissioned in December 1945, sold for scrap, and scuttled off California in 1947.

When USS Dover was stricken from the Navy’s list, it was the oldest commissioned vessel, more than 48 years afloat and in three major wars.

‘A terrific idea’

DePrima said it’s an uphill battle. There are only so many ships in the Navy, many fewer than possible names.

But he is hopeful.

Capital Rotary president Chris Smith, after listening to DePrima’s presentation, said he’ll ask his group’s members to support the proposal.

“I think it is an excellent idea, and I want our club to support it,” he said. “I think it will be great for our city to have a ship named after it.”

Christiansen said he’ll work to get city council support.

“I think it’s a terrific idea,” the mayor said. “It’s only appropriate we have a ship named after the city of Dover because America started right here.”

The Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the president and in accordance with congressional rules, has the authority to approve naval vessel names. Congress has been known to influence those decisions, DePrima said.

But the effort to have a USS Dover again plying the high seas must start at the local level, he said, adding a resolution by the capital city’s municipal government is essential.

“I don’t think this would happen unless the city of Dover goes on record as wanting it,” he said.