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Frederick Billings' great, great grandson photographs U.S.S. Billings

Larry French 13.jpg
Posted at 10:38 PM, Mar 24, 2023

The littoral combat ship U.S.S. Billings will be in for repairs at Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville, Florida.

The U.S. Navy installed a new crew for the ship that may be ready for deployment in about two years, according to Billings Mayor Bill Cole.

A man who is a descendent of the ship's namesake joined the festivities.

Larry French, who is photographer, had a chance to be part of and take pictures of a ceremony for the U.S.S. Billings.

Montana may be thousands of miles away from the Atlantic Ocean, but the state's largest city is well represented here at sea.

The ship was commissioned in 2019 and on Thursday, it experienced a change of command.

"Unlike anything I've ever seen before." said French, great, great grandson of Frederick Billings. "Of course, I'm still processing it all the next day of us having been on such a powerful vessel."

French is from Maryland and is a photographer for Getty Images.

He has worked at numerous sporting events, including NFL games, but this assignment was certainly unusual.

"The special ingredient for me is the fact that the ship was named after my great, great grandfather Frederick Billings," said French.

A special moment not only for French, but for Cole.

"He just knows a lot of that great family history," Cole said about French. "So it was great to bring that down here to Jacksonville and share that with the crew."

Ron Spence, Friends of the U.S.S. Billings board chair joined Cole in Florida.

And Cole invited French to the ceremony.

A bronze statue of Frederick Billings outside the Western Heritage Center, which used to be the Parmly Billings Library, illustrates Frederick's importance in Billings.

His influence can also be seen in Vermont, California and with the U.S. Navy.

Frederick Billings was president of the Northern Pacific Railroad and spent time as a land title lawyer and attorney general in California.

But French says Billings biggest contribution may be the family's farm in Vermont.

"I think most people in the family would say that his true legacy is really the environmental aspect as reflected in the Marsh, Billings, Rockerfeller National Historic Park," French said.

Cole appreciates that legacy and also the city of Billings connection to the U.S. Navy.

"It's our mission to build that relationship between the ship and the ship's crew and the namesake city," Cole said.

"To be there as a great, great grandson of Frederick Billings was secondary to my purpose there," French said. But it was also quite special to shake the hands of many crew members and Commander Thomas."

The crew's mascot is the Grizzly .

Cole said some Montana fans may be upset, but he said the U.S.S. Montana crew chose the Bobcat as its mascot.