On April 24, 2021, newly completed destroyer USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) was christened at the Ingalls Ship Yard in Pascagoula, Miss. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer holds special meaning for Navy Medicine. The ship’s namesakeâ€”Lenah Higbeeâ€” entered service in 1908 becoming part of the “Sacred Twenty,” the first nurses (and women) in the U.S. Navy. Just three years into her military career, Higbee ascended to the leadership of the corps, becoming only its second Superintendent (the forerunner of today’s Director of Nurse Corps.) Higbee now holds the distinction of having two ships named in her honor. Her first namesakeâ€”USS Higbee (DD-806)â€”was launched in 1944, just three years after her death.
Superintendent Higbee led the Navy Nurse Corps from January 1911 until November 1922. Throughout her career she fought for their acceptance of her nurses into a Navy that was not always welcoming and dedicated herself to establishing new opportunities for them. Under Higbee, Navy nurses began taking on new roles including teaching hospital corpsmen at hospitals and corps school, and serving aboard ships and at overseas activitiesâ€”the first women ever to do so in the Navy. During the influenza pandemic Navy nurses operated in infectious disease wards caring for the most virulent cases, some even sacrificing their own lives in the process; and by the end of World War Iâ€”under Higbee’s guidanceâ€”nurses had more than proved themselves as a vital part of the Navy.
In World War II, USS Higbee served in the Pacific where she screened carriers as they launched air attacks on the Japanese mainland and was later tasked with clearing minefields. During the Korean War, Higbee was re-designated a radar picket destroyer (DDR-806) and took part in the screening and shore bombardment in the Inchon Invasion. And in the 1960s, Higbee supported the fight in Vietnam and participated in Gemini capsule recovery missions in the Western Pacific. Her final years were spent in the Naval Reserve Force off Long Beach, California, and later Seattle, Washington. She was decommissioned in 1979 and sunk as a target off of San Diego in 1986.
USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) is a planned United States Navy Arleigh Burke-class Flight IIA guided missile destroyer, the 73rd overall for the class. Ingalls Shipbuilding was awarded the contract for Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee in June 2013, and began fabrication of the vessel in January 2017. The ship’s keel was laid in a ceremony at the Ingalls shipyards on 14 November 2017. She was christened on 24 April 2021 in Pascagoula, Mississippi. In the coming months USS Lenah S. Higbee will be undergoing sea trials before commissioning and ultimately joining the fleet. But the hope of this new ship remains bright and will be one that Navy Medicine continues to follow.