Hope stays afloat: Tony DePrima’s dream of seeing a ‘USS Dover’ gets the city’s support

DOVER — The skies have long been home to massive cargo aircraft from Dover Air Force Base, including the current fleet of C-5 Galaxy’s and C-17 Globemaster’s, which have their home city’s name “Dover” emblazoned proudly on their tails.

That was one of several things that got Tony DePrima, a Navy veteran and former Dover city manager, interested in having a Navy ship bear the name “USS Dover,” to give the capital of the First State a presence on the wide-open seas.

Mr. DePrima said it’s been a long time — 74 years to be exact — since the U.S. Navy has had a ship named in honor of Dover, and even that one, which was recommissioned, never made the active fleet.

Mr. DePrima is on a mission to change that. His latest stop was before members of Dover City Council on Monday night as he gave a presentation inside Council Chambers at City Hall as to why a Navy ship should be adorned with the name USS Dover.

“I think by the time I’m done with my presentation you’ll see that this is very long overdue,” said Mr. DePrima, before he gave his nearly 15-minute case for the USS Dover. “How common is it to name ships after capital cities like ours, particularly ours being a very historic capital city, the capital of the First State, home of Dover Air Force Base and so many other important roles it has played in our history?
“It’s very common.”

It turned out Mr. DePrima’s original assumption was correct as Dover city council members quickly voted unanimously 9-0 after hearing his presentation to pass Resolution No. 2019-09, requesting the Secretary of the Navy to consider naming a U.S. Naval vessel the USS Dover.

“I want to thank Mr. DePrima for your interest in bringing this forward to city council,” Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said. “I think it’s something that we definitely need to consider, and you have my support. I thank you for all the research that you’ve done on this matter.”
Council President Bill Hare was all for Mr. DePrima’s mission.
“Mr. DePrima has made this presentation to numerous Rotary Clubs and we have also written letters of support,” he said.
The resolution recalled Dover’s proud history in the founding of the United States of America, but also pointed out the city’s role in defending its freedom.

Part of the resolution stated, “Whereas, Delaware was home to 18 Medal of Honor recipients dating back to the Civil War, as well as 878 Gold Star Heroes, according to Military Families United. Dover Air Force Base is also located within the capital and plays an indispensable role in the global transportation network, as well as fulfilling the nations most sacred commitment at the Air Force Port Mortuary, Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, ensuring dignity, honor, and respect to all of the fallen heroes of the United States military who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Mayor and council request the Secretary of the Navy to consider naming a United States Naval Vessel, the USS Dover, in honor of Dover’s rich history, the Medal of Honor recipients, and as a memorial to all who pass through Dover AFB’s Port Mortuary on their final trip home.”

An unrelenting passion
Mr. DePrima has been on this mission for a couple of years now.
“I first got interested in this subject when I learned and read about the commissioning of the USS Delaware, which is a submarine that was christened last year and is in sea trials now,” he said. “It will be commissioned probably early next year, maybe even here in the Port of Wilmington in Delaware.

“The submarine replaced the battleship, the last USS Delaware, which was over 100 years ago. You can go over to the (Delaware) Public Archives and you can see the silver set that’s there, it’s remarkable, the ship’s bell and the nameplate.”

The last US Navy ship to be named USS Dover seen in this photo from the 1940s.

The story of the USS Delaware got Mr. DePrima wondering if there had ever been a USS Dover.
So, he began researching naval ships named after state capitals and he learned that besides Frankfort, Kentucky, every state capital has at one time or another had a ship named after it, including Dover.

“My research found that there were 45 ships named after capital cities sometime in the fleet,” said Mr. DePrima.
“Currently, there are 18 active ships in the fleet — 11 of them are submarines, four are literal combat ships, modern-day patrol gunboats and three are fast transports.

“Only one capital city missed the boat and that was Frankfort, Kentucky. Then there was one that never actually made the active fleet — and that was the USS Dover. It served a short four years. It was a recommissioned ship.”
Ironically, the 44-year-old gunboat turned training vessel on Lake Erie, was originally launched as USS Wilmington in 1897.

However, on the eve of World War II, planners from the Navy decided they wanted to name a proposed light cruiser after Wilmington — the state’s largest city — leaving the original USS Wilmington without a name.
They eventually chose Dover.

“I like to say this was a hand-me-down ship from our big brother, the city of Wilmington,” Mr. DePrima said. “This ship served very honorably. It was commissioned right before the Spanish-American War, was home ported in Key West (Florida), it served in the Spanish-American War and was in at least three battle engagements in Cuba.”

After the ship was renamed USS Dover in January 1941, it also was given the IX-30 designation, used for an unclassified miscellaneous auxiliary ship. The ship was used primarily as a training vessel throughout WWII. The recommissioned USS Dover never became a part of the Navy’s active fleet.

When the war came to an end, the USS Dover was decommissioned in December 1945, sold for scrap, and moved off to California in 1947.
When USS Dover was stricken from the Navy’s list of ships, it was its oldest commissioned vessel, having spent more than 48 years afloat and having fought in three major wars.

All systems go
It has been 74 long years since Dover has had a Navy ship named after it and Mr. DePrima feels like the time is now to bring the USS Dover name back to the seas.

He noted that there are currently six ships on order by the Navy that are unnamed — and a couple of them seem to fit right in with what has become Dover’s military mission around the globe. They are called Expeditionary Fast Transport ships.

“This is a very interesting ship and there are two on order, unnamed,” Mr. DePrima said. “These are actually USNS (United States Naval Ships), which means they are crewed by civilians. They’re unarmed and their job is to get combatants to in-theater (locations) — not combat zones. These are, in essence, the C-17s of the Navy.

“These ships can travel 50 miles-per-hour, they can move 104 troops and supply them for 14 days. These are stationed all over the place for fast action.”

There currently more than a dozen naval vessels named after state capitals, but the name USS Dover hasn’t been used since 1945.
The Secretary of the Navy has the distinction of approving naval vessel names under the direction of the president and in accordance with congressional rules. Submarines can only be named for states now.

“The Navy suggests that congressional offices wishing to express support to contact the office of the secretary of the Navy, which I have already done, and requested support from our congressional team,” Mr. DePrima said.

“What it really needs is the actual city to come forward and say, ‘We would like a ship named after our city, for all of the historical reasons.’
“Why hasn’t there ever been more of a presence on the USS Dover? I think nobody ever actually asked. I think it’s time to ask.”

The city of Dover officially leant its support for a potential USS Dover with its resolution on Monday night and now must wait to see how long Mr. DePrima — and the city’s — dream of a boat stays afloat.

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