The Navy destroyer USS Carl M. Levin arrived in Hawaii for its official homecoming in early August with a novel sight flapping from its mast: a brand-new battle flag featuring a fearsome pirate ship, a legendary sea monster and mythical phoenix.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer pulled into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Aug. 7, just six weeks after the Navy commissioned the vessel as the newest to join the fleet in Baltimore.
The warship is named for the late Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a longtime legislative force on military and defense affairs in the U.S. who died in 2021 at age 87. Through his tenure as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Levin advocated for greater fiscal responsibility and oversight, bipartisanship and the well-being of U.S. service members and veterans.
The battle flag, designed by Damage Controlman 3rd Class Hector Mendoza and selected from among submissions from other Levin sailors, shows a kraken -- a large, terrifying sea creature of yore -- splitting a pirate ship in two as a phoenix rises over the wreck, a Navy spokesperson told Military.com.
Mendoza "was inspired by telling his nieces about his job in the Navy as a pirate," Levin spokesperson Ensign Anastasiya Dudaryk said in an email. "He told them how he would sail the seven seas, hence the pirate ship being at the center."
"When I explain to family and friends my job here in the Navy, sailing the seven seas, I enjoy the heritage and the history [whether it be fact or fiction] that comes along with the job title," Mendoza told Military.com in an email.
While a kraken splintering a pirate ship into pieces might seem a mildly foreboding emblem for a new warship, Dudaryk explained that the phoenix, as the ship's mascot, "rises out of the destruction, symbolizing how the crew will persevere through any hardships or challenges."
"Whatever hardships we face as a crew, we will always come out on top and rise to the occasion," Mendoza said.
The ship's namesake is represented in an ivory gavel in the lower left corner to mark Levin's 36 years of service in Congress, while the Michigan flag appears in the lower right-hand corner as a tribute to the late senator's home state, Dudaryk said.
For Mendoza, it's the pirate ship, kraken and phoenix that truly distinguish the standard from those flown by other Navy warships.
"Between all of the battle flag ideas submitted by other sailors, I felt as if none of them really caught the attention that I knew a battle flag should," he said. "I just wanted to design a pretty badass battle flag to display for everyone to see."
The practice of flying battle flags while arriving at port has become a fixture of the U.S. Navy in recent years, with more and more newly commissioned warships flaunting uniquely designed standards, from the distinctly historical to the aggressively patriotic. The Levin is not the only Navy warship to take inspiration from the pirates of centuries past for a battle ensign. Indeed, the destroyer USS Kidd has flown the distinctive Jolly Roger flag often associated with pirates at least once in the last several years; so has the Seawolf-class nuclear submarine USS Jimmy Carter, according to eagle-eyed military observers, although sub battle flags have their own unique history and culture.
While battle flags often pay tribute to the military service of a vessel's namesake, Levin was not a veteran. Instead, he used his chairmanship of the SASC to champion pay raises for service members and better treatment for wounded warriors, push for better oversight to improve Pentagon spending practices and play a key role in overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
The naming of the destroyer pays tribute to Levin's dedication and gratitude to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces during his time as their advocate in the halls of Congress, his daughter Laura said during the ship's commissioning in June.
"As Dad put it, those who served in the military 'have inspired us, year after year, to come together across lines of party and ideology to support them,'" Levin said. "'They not only protect us, they unite us.'"
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