PASCAGOULA -- Former Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius was honored Tuesday during a ceremony at Ingalls Shipbuilding .
Ignatius was on hand to authenticate the keel of an Aegis guided-missile destroyer named in his honor.
The Paul Ignatius (DDG 117) is a DDG-51 destroyer under construction at Ingalls. The ship's construction was funded through a $698 million contract awarded to Ingalls in September 2011.
It is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Navy in 2018.
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Ignatius, 95, served as Navy secretary under President John F. Kennedy and he served as assistant secretary of defense under President Lyndon Johnson. He is one of few namesakes to participate in a keel ceremony.
Ignatius authenticated the keel by signing his initials, which were later welded into the ship by Ingalls welder Reginald Whisenhunt. Longtime Ingalls employee Bill Jones also had his initials welded to the keel.
"It's always exciting to celebrate another keel authentication of a destroyer," Ingalls president Brian Cuccias said. "This is our 31st destroyer. The keel authentication is a very important milestone in a ship's life. It's sort of a foundation for where the ship is headed."
Cuccias said Ignatius well deserved the namesake recognition.
"DDGs are conditionally named after great men and women in the history of our Navy," he said. "And the namesake of DDG 117 is no exception. Paul Ignatius epitomizes the leadership and the agility that has propelled our nation and I couldn't think of a better namesake for the DDG 117."
According to Navy protocol, all named DDGs must have a sponsor. Ignatius' wife, Nancy, is the sponsor of the DDG 117.
"I am so happy to be sponsoring this ship," she said. "When my husband was the secretary of the Navy, I had the honor of sponsoring a nuclear submarine. That was a long time ago and it has since been retired. Now, I have the opportunity to sponsor another vessel.
"This one is very special to me."
Ignatius said he was honored to have a ship named after him and praised Ingalls employees for their commitment to shipbuilding.
"I know the ship will be tougher than steel," he said. "America's shipbuilders are a treasured national resource. The U.S. shipbuilding industry was called by Franklin Roosevelt as the 'arsenal of democracy.' I'm pleased that this ship is a destroyer. DDG 117 will become a part of this proud destroyer tradition."
Ingalls has delivered 28 DDG-51 destroyers to the Navy. Three more, including the Paul Ignatius, are under construction. DDGs are capable of fighting air, surface and subsurface battles simultaneously.
The DDG-51 program was initiated in the late 1970s. The first DDG-51 was delivered to the Navy in 1985.