Originally Published in the Sioux City Journal
November 15, 2018
By Nick Hytrek
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — When the Navy announced that the USS Sioux City would be commissioned at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Sam McGowan was a high school student in the midst of applying to the school.
Was the Navy’s announcement an omen that she’d get in?
Maybe, McGowan said with a laugh, but she’s excited to see the ship named for her hometown sail into Annapolis and then witness the ceremonies and celebrations that will culminate with the USS Sioux City’s commissioning Saturday morning.
“I’m excited not only to have the Sioux City here, but to show my friends a little bit about Iowa. I think it will be a cool opportunity for all of us to see the fleet and see a ship commissioned,” said McGowan, a plebe, or first-year student, who graduated in May from Bishop Heelan High School.
Fellow Sioux City native and midshipman Natalie Wender said the Academy routinely hosts big events. But a Navy warship has never been commissioned at the Academy before, and there’s a notable buzz on campus.
“It’s definitely a big deal. There’s a lot of talk around campus about what’s going to happen,” said Wender, 21, a 1st-class midshipman, or senior.
It’s a bigger deal when the ship is named after the city in which you grew up. Both McGowan and Wender are happy to see the Navy honoring an area of the country that sometimes gets overlooked.
“I think it’s really cool that the Navy is taking the opportunity to celebrate the Midwest,” said McGowan, 18, the daughter of Chris and Cathleen McGowan.
Wender found out the USS Sioux City would be commissioned in Annapolis while she was home last Christmas visiting her parents, Jane and Donald Wender. It’s a neat event to see take place before she graduates in May, Wender said.
“It’s really exciting to pay respects to people from Iowa who are in the Navy and military,” said Wender, who’s majoring in English with a minor in Spanish.
The fact Wender and McGowan are from Sioux City hasn’t exactly made them campus celebrities, but their friends know the ship represents home for them. Both of them, as well as other midshipmen, will be attending the commissioning, and both will appreciate seeing many reminders of home. Hundreds of Siouxlanders are expected to make the trip, and well-known food processors such as Jolly Time, Blue Bunny and Palmer Candy will be shipping out food items to give the East Coast a taste of Sioux City.
“I’m really excited to have a little of Sioux City out here. I’m excited for some good Palmer candy,” McGowan said.
Wender, who graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, Minnesota, in 2015 (she attended North High School her sophomore year), said those who know of her Sioux City roots have asked her a few questions about home. She’s told them that, in a way, Sioux City represents a much larger area.
“I say that it’s cool because it intersects Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska,” she said.
Wender and McGowan must serve in the Navy or Marines for at least five years after they graduate from the Academy. Could either be assigned to the USS Sioux City someday? It’s hard to say, said McGowan, who is interested in aviation and will declare her major in March with other plebes.
“I think that would be ironic and a cool story, but we’ll see,” she said.
Once commissioned, the ship’s home port will be in Mayport, Florida, an area where Wender would like to be assigned. Serving as an officer on board the USS Sioux City would make the assignment even better.
“There’s definitely a possibility. I don’t know if I’ll be able to select it,” she said. “If things would work out, that would be really cool.”