New petition aims to honor alleged USS Fitzgerald hero

An ongoing petition on Change.org is seeking at least 15,000 signatures to convince Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley to name DDG 127, an as-yet unnamed destroyer, after Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary L. Rehm, Jr., who allegedly gave up his own life while attempting to rescue six sailors in a flooding compartment on the USS Fitzgerald.

According to the family, they were told the story of Rehm’s death by the Navy, which also told them that the sailor successfully helped 20 other sailors escape before perishing while attempting to save the last six men in the compartment.

The damaged USS Fitzgerald returns to the fleet activites center at Yokosuka, Japan, after being struck by a merchant vessel in the Pacific Ocean

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart)

The Fitzgerald was struck by the ACX Crystal, a Philippine container ship, on June 17. The much larger Crystal impacted the Fitzgerald almost squarely on the sleeping berths, causing massive damage to the area where a number of sailors were resting.

The Navy has not yet completed its investigation of the incident, but Rehm is thought to have gone into action right after the collision. The fire controlman helped get the first 20 sailors out and, despite knowing that the hatch may be closed to save the ship if the flooding continued, returned to the compartment to search for six sailors still trapped inside.

The damaged USS Fitzgerald returns to the fleet activites center at Yokosuka, Japan, after being struck by a merchant vessel in the Pacific Ocean

(Photo U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kryzentia Weiermann)

As the water rushed in, the rest of the crew was forced to close the hatches while Rehm was still inside.

DDG 127, the ship which petitioners hope will be named after Rehm, is an Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer like the Fitzgerald. The guided-missile destroyers can fire a variety of missiles against everything from land targets to aircraft to submarines to other ships and even missiles in flight.

Other Arleigh-Burke vessels have been named after everything from politicians, such as the USS Winston Churchill, to a group of five brothers killed in a single battle in World War II (USS The Sullivans), to other sailors who gave their lives to save others.

The Fitzgerald is named for Lt. William C. Fitzgerald, an officer who began his career as an enlisted sailor before graduating from the Naval Academy. He later gave his life to cover the retreat of civilians and other sailors under attack by the Viet Cong on Aug. 7, 1967. The ship’s motto is “Protect Your People.”

Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr. who allegedly saved 20 sailors after the USS Fitzgerald was involved in an at sea collision

Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio. Rehm was one of seven Sailors killed when the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal. The incident is under investigation. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Rehm’s actions, if proven during the Navy’s investigation, surely upheld the ship’s traditions and motto.

Readers can learn more about the petition and add their signature here. It had 11,149 of a necessary 15,000 at the time this article was written.

The other six sailors who died in the June 17 crash were Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25; Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23; and Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24.

The remains of all seven sailors killed in the crash were recovered from the flooded berthing compartment.

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