It’s happened three other times in Cleveland’s history, but this time it’s way different. When the new 3,500-ton USS Cleveland (LCS-31) launches from Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin, the vessel’s commissioning on our city’s waterfront, its crew and eventual retirement will be supported by a nonprofit organization called the USS Cleveland Legacy Foundation.
This isn’t the first time a ship named after the city has been called into service. The first USS Cleveland was a small, 3,200-ton light cruiser that escorted convoys in the Atlantic during World War I. It was scrapped in 1930. The second USS Cleveland was an 11,700-ton light cruiser that served in the Pacific during World War II. The third was a 9,700-ton amphibious ship that served off the coast of Vietnam.
With a length of 378 feet and beam of just more than 57 feet, the new USS Cleveland is a swift warship that will become a part of the Freedom Variant Littoral Combat Ship Class. Despite its size, the new USS Cleveland has a top speed of 47 knots, or 56 mph. It is designed for use in shallow water, engaging in patrol duties that include detention of submarines and other surface ships.
“We are a 501(c)(3) organization, having just received our official designation back in November,” says Mike Dovilla, president and executive director of the USS Cleveland Legacy Foundation. “There are actually two variants of this ship: the Freedom class, of which ours is one; and the Independence Class, which is a trimaran style of ship being built down on the Golf Coast.”
The USS Cleveland is the 31st and final ship of the Freedom Class being built in Marinette. Others have launched and visited the city’s waterfront in the past, before subsequent commissioning elsewhere in the world.
The expected commissioning of the USS Cleveland will take place in 2023 and mark the first time a U.S. Navy warship has been commissioned on the city’s waterfront. The exact dates of the ceremony will be determined closer to the vessel’s launch date.
“It will potentially be a weeklong event, which should create a lot of energy in our city,” says Karen Mihalik, M.D., vice president and chair of the organization’s marketing committee. “We want to get community support from not just the people of Cleveland, but from the surrounding suburbs as well.”
Although the commissioning is an important and historic event, it’s just the first of three phases of support from the nonprofit.
“For the Cleveland, we have a little more ambitious plan,” says Dovilla. “In Phase Two, we plan to support the crew during her service life. In Phase 3, after 20 to 25 years when her service is complete, we plan to retire the ship back to Cleveland, where she will be used as a museum and educational resource for the entire community.”
“Every ship has a sponsor,” explains Dovilla. “In terms of the USS Cleveland, our city hit the jackpot.”
That sponsor happens to be Robyn Modly, wife of the former acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, who was in that position late November through mid-April. Thomas grew up just outside of Cleveland and is still an Indians, Browns and Cavaliers fan. As the USS Cleveland’s sponsor, Robyn is connected to the community in a unique way.
The U.S. Navy’s relationship with the city goes way back and directly involves the Indians, among other sports, nonprofits and business organizations. Indeed, the chairperson of the USS Cleveland Legacy Foundation is none other than Jim Folk, vice president of ballpark operations for the Cleveland Indians.
“And, of course, our connection with the Navy is through the greatest right-handed pitcher of all time, Bob Feller,” says Folk. “On Dec. 8, 1941, he became the first professional athlete to enlist in the armed service with the U.S. Navy. He was an incredible pitcher, but he was also the first in line when the recruitment office opened the day after [the attack on] Pearl Harbor. And if you asked him what he was most proud of during his career, he would always say, ‘My service in the Navy.’
“So that’s our connection with the military, and we have been able to build upon that by helping support not just the Navy and Marine Corps, but all of the other services that help protect our country.”
Two other Freedom Class ships built at Marinette have already visited Cleveland. A third, the St. Louis, is expected late spring or early summer.
“Cleveland is always the first stop for any ship on her way down to Florida for commissioning, the exception being the USS Indianapolis, which stopped at Burns Harbor where she was commissioned,” says Matt Previts, development committee co-chair. “So when the St. Louis comes through here, this will be its first stop.
“We want to show its crew Cleveland hospitality, give them a chance for a shower and to use a regular restroom, which they can’t do on the Great Lakes,” adds Previts. “That’s why we are partnering with so many local folks, like the Coast Guard, Cleveland Browns, YMCA, the Indians, the Great Lakes
Science Center and Rock Hall. We want to give them some great options for
“We also want the people of Cleveland to have a chance to see a U.S. Naval warship up close,” adds Mihalik.
It also will be something of a homecoming for Kevin Hagan, a Shaker Heights native, who is the commanding officer of the St. Louis.
For more information, visit usscleveland.org.