Senator John C. Stennis: Father of the Modern Navy

Thirty-two years ago, President Ronald Reagan announced that “America’s next nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will be christened the USS JOHN C. STENNIS.” He said it was an expression of the nation’s gratitude for the Senator’s steady leadership that had built America’s Navy into the most powerful in the world. Today, the strength of the United States Navy can still be traced to the foundation built by Senator Stennis through his conviction that America’s defense depended on building and maintaining a naval force that would not only meet challenges to U.S. security throughout the world but could prevent potential conflicts by bringing calm in troubled spots.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and of the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Stennis used his influence, which was greatly enhanced by his reputation for integrity and fairness, to consistently beat back political challenges from those who wanted to cut defense spending in the years following the Vietnam War. He insisted that the nation must ‘look ahead’ beyond the relative peace of the moment to be prepared for challenges that were sure to come in the future.

At the core of Senator Stennis’ vision for naval strength was building enough aircraft carriers to enable the U.S. to respond quickly and effectively to a potential crisis anywhere in the world. He believed the very presence of an American aircraft carrier offshore would deter potential conflicts that could otherwise evolve into severe national security challenges. He successfully fought for funding to build aircraft carriers in the face of stiff resistance from those who wanted to cut defense spending. As a result of his leadership and perseverance, eight of the 11 U.S. aircraft carriers in operation today were authorized and appropriated under Senator Stennis’ leadership.

In his announcement of the USS STENNIS, President Reagan noted the justifiable pride Mississippians could take in Senator Stennis’ many accomplishments during his Senate career that spanned five decades. But the President stressed that Senator Stennis was a “United States Senator,” pointing out that his leadership contributions reached far beyond the interests of Mississippi. The aircraft carriers Senator Stennis worked so hard to authorize and appropriate were not built in Mississippi – there was no political or economic benefit for him or his state.

Several years after Senator Stennis left the U.S. Senate, an observer standing on the deck of the USS STENNIS looking out at the Norfolk Naval Base – the most extensive naval base in the world – noted that every ship in the vast port had been authorized and procured under the leadership of Senator Stennis. Seeking out and working along-side visionary naval leaders, like Admiral Hyman Rickover, Senator Stennis pushed for a naval force that was not only larger but more capable of strategically meeting national defense needs in a rapidly changing world. Thus, Senator Stennis became known by naval leaders and on Capitol Hill as the “Father of the Modern Navy.”

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One Research Boulevard, Suite 104, Starkville, MS 39759

(662) 325-8409 • Fax (662) 325-8623

201 Mass. Avenue, NE, Suite C-7, Washington, DC 20002 

(202) 546-1837 • Fax (202) 546-3841