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Upbeat Giffords honored at White House bill-signing, Pentagon ship-naming

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WASHINGTON – An upbeat, smiling Gabrielle Giffords was back in Washington Friday where she was honored at separate ceremonies in the White House and the Pentagon.

Giffords – making her first appearance in Washington as a former member of Congress – moved slowly with the help of friends and her husband. But she also belted out the national anthem, chatted enthusiastically with well-wishers and gave an excited “Wow!” after Pentagon officials showed a poster of the ship being named in her honor.

“God Bless the USS Gabrielle Giffords,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, after he unveiled a picture of the 3,000-ton Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) that will be named for the former Tucson representative once it is built.

“The name this ship bears and the story represented by that name will inspire all those who come in contact with it,” Mabus said.

Mabus and Giffords donned baseball caps emblazoned with the name of the ship, as her husband, retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, and Roxanna Green, who held Giffords’ hand during the event. Green’s daughter Christina-Taylor, 9, was the youngest victim in the Jan. 8, 2011, Tucson shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords.

After a year of recovery, Giffords last month resigned her seat in Congress to focus on her continued recuperation from that shooting.

Mabus said it was fitting that Giffords’ name should be on the ship, since it will represent “unwavering courage.”

“It is very appropriate that LCS 10 be named for someone who has become synonymous with courage, who has inspired the nation with remarkable resiliency and showed the possibilities of the human spirit,” Mabus said.

He also named Green the ship’s sponsor Friday, saying she “will be with that ship and a part of that ship for as long as that ship is in the Navy.”

Giffords lingered after the event to greet the Navy servicemen and women who surrounded her in the Pentagon’s center courtyard.

Former Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, attended the Pentagon event to support his friend and former colleague, calling it a “magic moment.”

“Ship-naming is important,” Skelton said. “Ships take on the characteristics or character of the name of the ship.

“This lady will be remembered as a warm, unselfish, dedicated, most of all courageous lady,” Skelton said. “I’m proud to call her my friend and the Navy, I know, is especially proud to call this ship the USS Gabrielle Giffords.”

Before the Pentagon event, Giffords was also honored Friday at the White House, where President Barack Obama signed into law the last bill she sponsored.

The Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act gives law enforcement officials more authority to battle criminals who use the small aircraft to smuggle drugs across the border from Mexico.

The bill was introduced by Giffords in 2010, but died last year in a dispute between the House and Senate. It was reintroduced this year and passed unanimously, with Giffords casting her last vote for the bill last month before turning in her letter of resignation.

Obama, in a private signing ceremony, said the bill is just another example of Giffords dedicating her career to serve and protect the people of Arizona, according to a statement released by the White House.

“Her dedication to fairness and to this country has been an inspiration to so many, including myself,” Obama said in the statement. “I’m confident that while this legislation may have been her last act as a congresswoman, it will not be her last act of public service.”