The launching of a naval vessel is a special event in the US Navy. Dignitaries are invited and speeches are made, followed by a ceremonial breaking of a champagne bottle which starts the ship sliding down the ways. On one occasion though, it took the intervention of movie star and American icon John Wayne for the ceremony to be a success. It happened like this:
On September 25, 1975, at Bath Maine, the Navy prepared to launch the first of a new class of guided missile frigate, USS Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7). The Perry was of a new generation of sub-hunters, a grand total of 71 eventually being constructed, with versions serving the navies of Australia, Poland, Bahrain, Egypt, Taiwan, Turkey, and Spain. To witness the proceedings, the Navy invited many distinguished guests, including a much younger Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and legendary Hollywood Western actor John Wayne.
All seemed to be going as planned. The speeches were completed and as tradition dictated, a lady crashed the ceremonial champagne bottle against the hull as a signal for the launch. Nothing happened. The shipbuilders were confounded and the Navy embarrassed. Everything was tried to budge the vessel, but nothing worked. It was becoming a public relation’s nightmare! It was here that Wayne stepped up to save the day, as he had pretended to do in countless films over the pass 40 years. Coolly striding to the 3600 ton warship, the maverick actor known as “the Duke” gave Perry a gentle shove, probably in jest, and the giant vessel moved. Into the water slipped the frigate to the great astonishment of all those present!
The USS Perry went on to serve her country with distinction until she was decommissioned in 1997. Already suffering from the effects of cancer, actor and American legend John Wayne died at UCLA Medical Center on June 11, 1979.