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Errant drone injures sailors

The Navy ship named for the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville made news over the weekend when it was hit by an errant drone, injuring two sailors, one of them from Spotsylvania County.

According to The Associated Press, an aerial target drone veered off course during a weapons system test on Saturday, striking the USS Chancellorsville. The drone hit the port side, damaging the hull and starting a small fire, according to news reports.

The San Diego-based ship was sailing off Southern California when it was hit.

The Navy reported that two sailors sustained minor burns, and that it was investigating the cause of the drone malfunction. The drone, the AP reported, was being used to test the ship’s radar and that there were about 300 crew members aboard the ship.

The names of the two injured sailors were not released by the Navy. But the local Friends of the USS Chancellorsville group learned that one of them was David Gentry, a petty officer who lived in Spotsylvania prior to joining the Navy, and whose mother still lives there.

Gentry was the ship’s representative here during a ceremony in May at the 150th anniversary of the Chancellorsville Campaign.

Lynn Freshour of Spotsylvania, a former president of the friends group, passed along an email from Capt. William A. Hesser Jr., the ship’s commander, that Gentry, “after being injured . . . returned to help fight the resulting fire and performed heroically. He is an absolutely stellar sailor and an even more impressive person.”

Last May 3, the Friends of USS Chancellorsville and others associated with the guided-missile cruiser, were recognized by the Navy in an informal ceremony here marking the battle anniversary, which notched a key victory for the Confederates.

That gathering was initiated by plans for a “staff ride” that day in the battlefield by the Naval Warfare Development Command in Norfolk. Staff rides, done by all branches of the military, give officers a firsthand look at key battlefields.

The agency thought it would also be an opportunity to recognize local groups that have supported the USS Chancellorsville over the years.

Hesser couldn’t attend the ceremony at the battlefield, so Gentry, who had local connections, represented the ship and its crew.

Loaded with Aegis combat technology developed at the Dahlgren Navy base in King George County, the ship is the only Navy vessel named after the battle, and said to be the only one marking a Confederate victory.

The ship carries artifacts from Spotsylvania, given during the 1989 commissioning in Mississippi. Among those: a cannon ball, saddle, sabre, bullets and planks made from a dead oak tree from the battlefield. A brass plaque, with details of the ship’s and Chancellorsville’s history, is on display.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431