On August 27, 1944, the first USS Little Rock was launched in Philadelphia at the Cramp Shipbuilding Company shipyards. A 10,000 ton light cruiser, it first touched water in the Delaware River.
The sponsor of the ship (who broke the champagne bottle on the hull) was Mrs. Ruth May Wassell, the wife of Little Rock alderman Sam Wassell. The main address was delivered by Congressman Brooks Hays, whose district included Little Rock. A crowd of 5,000 was gathered to witness the launch.
According to the Associated Press Congressman Hays called light cruisers, “the hottest item of naval combat.”
The congressman further elaborated:
The people of Little Rock are proud to have such a ship as this bear their city’s name.” said Mr. Hays. “Even those of us who know little about the classification of naval vessels know that the cruisers have distinguished themselves in the Pacific war and that this is the outstanding type of combat vessel for that area. The navy men tell us that the cruiser is the ‘work horse of the navy.’ big enough to go into any battle, fast enough to lead any task force.
Carrying, as it has, the heaviest load in the Pacific where the greatest battles have taken place, the cruisers have added luster to naval history. We hope that, in the time remaining before our enemies are put down, the Little Rock will take her place along side the Boise, the San Francisco, the Helena,and the Chicago, preserving the prestige of the cruisers.
We are glad to honor the workmen and the company for which they work. I am sure we are all impressed with the spirit of teamwork which produced the results we observe today. In March 1943, the keel was laid and for 18 months materials for the ship have come from everywhere. The taxes to pay for it will be assessed against men and women of great and little resources. Teamwork from beginning to end did the job.
So with the war. A glorious victory lies ahead, but there is much remaining to be done. Only teamwork can supply the dynamic power yet needed to complete that victory. Every ship launching is a reminder of the power that comes to a people who work together to achieve.”
Other guests at the ceremony included United States Senator John L. McClellan and Congressman and senator-elect J. William Fulbright. Alderman Sam Wassell was also present. He and his wife hosted a dinner for the Arkansas delegation and other dignitaries the night before the christening while they were in Philadelphia.
At the request of the Secretary of the Navy, Little Rock Mayor Charles Moyer designated Mrs. Wassell for the honor of sponsoring the USS Little Rock. There are not details as to why Mayor Moyer made the designation. A first cousin of Alderman Wassell, Dr. Corydon Wassell had been an early World War II hero and was a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt. Paramount had released a movie about him earlier in 1944. That may have been a reason for the designation.
The Little Rock City Council sent a bouquet of roses to the ceremony, fitting since the city’s nickname at the time was “City of Roses.” After the launch, Mrs. Wassell sent a telegram to Mayor Moyer and the Council
Thanks a million for the beautiful bouquet of red roses. They made the christening of the cruiser Little Rock perfect. I wish it could have been possible for you to have been present. The cruiser is 600 feet long and will have a crew of 1,200 men. I was so proud of our city. Little Rock has something to be proud of.