[image-1] Fifty years ago in South Vietnam on March 5, 1968, Private First-Class Ralph Johnson, a 19-year old Charleston native, threw himself on a grenade when his unit came under attack. The blast killed him instantly, but his actions saved the lives of at least one fellow Marine. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and in 1991, the Charleston VA Medical Center was named in his honor.

On Saturday, the new Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson named in his honor will be commissioned in the Charleston Harbor.

[image-5] Friends and family remember Johnson as a religious young man who knew at an early age he wanted to become a Marine. Johnson enlisted in March 1967 and was sent to fight in Vietnam in early 1968. While on his last patrol, a friend remembers Johnson finding enemy mines near where American helicopters were set to land. Early on March 5 when his team came under attack and a grenade landed in the hole where Johnson and two other Marines were positioned, Johnson is said to have jumped on the explosive, shielding his colleagues from the blast. Johnson is buried at Beaufort National Cemetery.

The USS Ralph Johnson is an Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer equipped with advanced missile defense systems and radar systems capable of linking with other ships and aircraft for “a composite picture of the battle space.” The ship has nearly 100 tubes for guided long-range missiles and is designed to launch a wide range of rockets and missiles. The ship is also equipped with guns large and small and can accommodate two helicopters.

The 510-foot ship powered by gas turbine engines was built in Mississippi, weighs more than 7,000 tons, and can accommodate more than 300 crew. After commissioning, the Ralph Johnson will be stationed in Everett, Wash.

The Navy is also awaiting construction of the USS Charleston, a stealth warship.

Passes for Saturday’s commissioning event have already been distributed. But keep an eye out for it on the water, the Navy ship is unmistakable at the downtown Charleston port mostly frequented by cargo and cruise ships.

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