MARINETTE, Wis. | With all the pomp and ceremony befitting such an occasion, the USS Sioux City left the land behind, splashing into the water where it is meant to be.
The ship was christened and launched Saturday into the Menominee River at the Marinette Marine Shipyards, where she has been under construction since 2013.
Hundreds of people, including Naval dignitaries, Sioux Cityans and many of the workers who built the ship, gathered near the dock on an unseasonably warm day to witness the first ship named for Sioux City move one step closer to joining the Navy fleet.
"For the United States of America, I christen thee Sioux City. May God bless this ship and all who sail on her," ship sponsor Mary Winnefeld said seconds before shattering a bottle of champagne across the bow in one swing, drawing cheers.
Within seconds, the ship slowly slid down the launching skids and landed with a splash that created waves shattering the ice covering the river. As the USS Sioux City rocked and bobbed in the water, a Navy band played "Anchors Aweigh," as the crowd cheered and whistled.
Nancy Kielhold, who traveled from Sioux City with her husband, Nick, was still emotional after witnessing the ship strike the water.
"I could have cried it was so emotional. The speeches connected to Sioux City and Iowa. It was so patriotic," she said, choking up slightly. "I swear I got hit by drops of water from the launch."
Sioux City was well-represented by some two dozen people who stood to be recognized by the crowd during the ceremony before the launch. That so many would travel so far for the occasion showed Sioux City's commitment to supporting the ship and her crews in any way possible, mayor Bob Scott told the crowd.
"We as a community are honored in a way you can't imagine," Scott said. "Our community has embraced this already and will continue to do so for the lifetime of the ship. We do have a rich history in the military, and this is an honor we will not soon forget."
Throughout the past two days, shipbuilders, Naval officers and contractors expressed the amount of pride they had in a ship that has yet to sail. The pride Sioux City has showed in this ship made an impression on them, Siouxland Chamber of Commerce president Chris McGowan said.
During the weekend, McGowan said, Navy officials were surprised that so many from Sioux City came to the launch. Most cities have far fewer citizens attend these ceremonies.
"It's interesting to have learned some communities have not embraced their namesake ship and crew as Sioux City has," McGowan said after the launch. "The entirety of the two days just gave me an enormous sense of pride to say Sioux City is my home town.
"We're going to do everything in our power to make sure the community continues to support the ship and its crew in the future."
That the ship was named for a smaller city in a land-locked Midwestern state brings pride to sailors from those areas. Having a ship named for Sioux City is special, said Capt. Paul Young, a Fremont, Nebraska, native who oversees the crews that will serve on the ship.
"It tugs at the heartstrings for sure because I know the quality of people in the Midwest, especially in Nebraska and Iowa," Young said.
The launch capped off a ceremony of speeches from executives, Navy brass and politicians, many of them paying tribute to Sioux City.
Though the USS Sioux City is a warship, it also will take part in peace-keeping missions and relief efforts, calling to mind Chief War Eagle and his desire for peace with early settlers in the Sioux City area, said Gloria Valdez, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Ship Programs.
Adm. Michelle Howard, vice chief of Naval Operations, the Navy's second-in-command, complimented Iowans' innovative spirit, citing the invention of the Eskimo Pie ice cream treat in Onawa.
"This spirit is wrapped up in (the ship's) motto: 'Forging a New Frontier'. The Sioux City is going where few ships have gone before," Howard said.
The ship is the 11th in the littoral combat class, a new class of ships designed to sail nearer the coast -- in the littoral zone -- and into shallower waters than other naval vessels. The ships are designed for mine detection and clearing, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare.
Building and development of the ships in the Sioux City's class involve 10,000 people and 900 companies in 43 states, said Stephanie Hill, general manger and vice president of Lockheed Martin mission systems and training, ship and aviation systems.
Work remains to finish the ship's interior and install many of its operating systems. After up to 12 months of testing on Lake Michigan, the USS Sioux City will be commissioned before arriving in its home base in Florida.