Written by Henry Culvyhouse.
The closest the city of Huntington gets to the sea is the Ohio River.
So it might sound strange that the U.S. Navy, known as a protector of the world’s salt waters, would name a ship after a city in landlocked West Virginia.
But in 1916, it did just that.
The story starts back in 1900, when the Navy commissioned a new class of armored cruisers called the “Pennsylvania-class.” By 1903, the fifth of these armored crusiers, the USS West Virginia (ACR-5), eased into the waters of Newport News, Virginia.
After serving in the Atlantic and the Pacific, the cruiser backed U.S. forces during the 1914 seizure of a Mexican port. The occupation of Veracruz was sparked by the arrest of nine U.S. sailors during the Mexican Revolution.
While on security detail near Mexico, the ship was officially renamed the USS Huntington, so as to free up the name West Virginia for a new Colorado-class battleship in production. The second USS West Virginia (BB-48) would gain infamy when Japanese forces sank it at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Here’s where things get interesting.
Since the late 1800s, the world’s naval powers were tinkering with combining balloons with boats to better observe enemy formations. With the invention of the airplane in 1903, military leaders shifted their focus to developing what would later become the aircraft carrier.
In 1917, the Navy outfitted Huntington with catapults and other equipment to launch and land four seaplanes. The ship was then sent to Pensacola, Florida, to be used in a series of early experiments in wedding the air with the sea.
When the United States was dragged into World War I, Huntington was sent to France. During the voyage, an observation balloon became tangled and plunged into the water—taking one sailor with it. First class ship fitter Patrick McGunigal leapt into the sea and rescued Lt. H.W. Hoyt from drowning. McGunigal’s heroic actions resulted in him being awarded the war’s first Medal of Honor.
After leading convoys in the North Atlantic, amid fire from German U-Boats, Huntington was converted to a troop carrier at the end of the war. Over eight months, the ship brought 12,000 troops back to American soil. The ship was decommissioned in 1920 and scrapped 10 years later.
But it wouldn’t be the last time the city of Huntington would have a ship named after it. In the early 1940s, the Navy proposed naming a light aircraft carrier after Huntington (CVL-77), but it was nixed before it was built.
However, a Fargo-class light cruiser was built and commissioned in 1946. That USS Huntington (CL-107) would go on to serve three years in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
To date, #HuntingtonWV is not the only city in West Virginia to have a namesake Navy ship, but it is the only city to have two.