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Navy ship Charles Drew is christened in San Diego

The vessel is named after a black surgeon whose research was key to developing large-scale blood banks. 'Even though he was not in the military, his name is connected to saving lives in the military,'

February 28, 2010|By Hector Becerra

Sylvia Drew Ivie has seen schools and a medical college named after her late father, Charles Drew, a black surgeon whose pioneering work in the science of blood preservation was key to the development of large-scale blood banks.

But the Navy's christening and launching of the 689-foot-long Charles Drew cargo ship from a San Diego shipyard early Saturday may have been the most unusual "edifice" named after him. It was, however, no less touching, Drew Ivie said.

The Los Angeles resident acknowledged that some people would find it unusual for a war ship to be named after her father, also the namesake of Willowbrook's Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science. Then again, her father's research on the storage and shipment of plasma is credited with saving hundreds of lives during World War II.

"Even though he was not in the military, his name is connected to saving lives in the military," Drew Ivie said. "Whatever my politics are about the wars the U.S. is engaged in, taking care of people fighting in wars and among our allies was a very integral part of his story."

The ship was christened by Drew's eldest daughter, Bebe Drew Price, who broke a bottle of champagne against the bow under rainy skies before more than 1,300 people. The Charles Drew is so large that there are generally only two days a month when the tide is high enough for the Navy to safely slide the ship into San Diego Bay.

The ship will deliver dry cargo and ammunition to U.S. and allied aircraft carriers and destroyers. "It will provide them with all the supplies they need, from Corn Flakes to missiles, from gasoline to ice cream," said Karl Johnson, a spokesman for General Dynamics NASSCO, the ship's builder. "It will be crewed by civilian mariners, like a merchant marine fleet."

About 1,000 people have worked on building the ship at one time, Johnson said. When it is finally complete, the ship will be staffed with about 135 people, he added. Two helicopters can land on the Charles Drew.

Drew Ivie said she was looking forward to keeping in touch with the ship's crew, a tradition for family of people who have ships named after them.

"We can go aboard the ship and go out with the ship for short stints," Drew Ivie said. "I can send cookies to the officers or the people in the mess hall. We can have a living relationship with the crew. It's very inspiring."

Drew Ivie, 66, a top aide to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said she was only 6 years old when her father died in 1950. But she remembered how tender he was to his four children.

Her father was the director of the first American Red Cross effort to collect and bank blood on a large scale, but he nevertheless encountered racial discrimination. When the military issued an order to the Red Cross during World War II that blood be "typed" according to the race of the donor, Drew was outraged. And despite his contributions to blood plasma research, he was denied membership in the American College of Surgeons.

"He would have been just thrilled," Drew Ivie said of the ship being named after him. "It's extremely gratifying, and it will be a beacon to people of all races and ethnicities that their contributions are appreciated. That we are appreciated."

hector.becerra@ latimes.com

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