The Guinness Book of Records does not have a category for warship christenings. If it did, the record might well read as follows: “Most elapsed time between christenings of U.S. major combatants: 52 years, seven months, and nine days— Margaret Truman Daniel and Drucie Snyder Horton.”
On an overcast winter day, 29 January 1944, Margaret Truman christened the battleship Missouri (BB-63) at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn. Chosen as the sponsor because she was the daughter of Senator Harry Truman of Missouri, 19-year-old Margaret Truman was accompanied by two friends from George Washington University, Drucie Snyder and Jane Lingo. The night before the christening, they attended a Broadway show and then were so excited that they couldn’t get to sleep. The evening of 29 January, following the shipyard ceremony, they fell asleep in their chairs while being served dessert at New York’s posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
The following year, of course, fate and history added a new significance to the events of that cool January day when Margaret’s fur coat got a champagne shower during the christening. In April 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt died, and Harry Truman became the nation’s President. As the United States concluded its victorious war against Japan, Truman designated his daughter’s ship, the Missouri, to serve as the site of the surrender ceremony on 2 September in Tokyo Bay. In 1946, John W. Snyder, Drucie’s father, became Secretary of the Treasury in Truman’s Cabinet.
On 7 September of this year, it was time to christen CVN-75, a new aircraft carrier named in honor of the wartime President. Margaret Truman Daniel is the sponsor of the new warship, but uncertain health prevented her from attending the christening ceremony at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. Her longtime friend, now Drucie Horton, was on hand to help out. A loudspeaker carried a pre-recorded message from the former President’s daughter: “I christen thee Harry S. Truman. God bless all who sail in her.” At that point, Mrs. Horton, as matron of honor, stepped forward and whacked a projection from the bow of the ship with a bottle of Missouri champagne. A siren blared, and the band broke into its rendition of “Anchors Aweigh.”
Originally, the Navy had planned to name CVN-75 the “United States.” Those with long memories figured there was some poetic justice at work. Back in April 1949, President Truman’s economy-minded Secretary of Defense, Louis A. Johnson, had canceled construction of a new flush-deck carrier just five days after her keel was laid at this same shipyard in Newport News. The cancellation of that “United States” (CVA-58) was to the Navy a bitter symbol in its struggle against the Air Force for shares of the defense budget in the post-World War II era.
Nearly 50 years later, the carrier name “United States” again fell by the wayside, replaced by the name of the man who was President in 1949 and backed his Secretary of Defense, because he believed in the principle of civilian control of the military. George Elsey was a young Naval Reserve officer who served on the White House staff under both Roosevelt and Truman. In writing about Truman for the souvenir program distributed at the recent christening ceremony, Elsey noted the irony connected with the twice-failed attempts to name aircraft carriers after their nation. He observed, however, that there was better news this time— the Navy lost only the name, not the ship.