USNS Charles Drew

Navy Names Ship For Dr. Charles R. Drew

Drew was a Surgeon and Pioneer in Blood Preservation

The USNS Charles R. Drew will be christened on Feb. 27

The U.S. Navy will christen a ship later this month named in honor of Dr. Charles R. Drew, the pioneering surgeon whose work with blood preservation and storage saved countless lives.

“Dr. Charles Drew is responsible for one of the most significant advances in health care in the last 100 years,” said Dr. Keith C. Norris, Interim President of Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science. “It’s only fitting that he be honored.”

Dr. Norris plans to attend the ceremony for the christening and launch of the USNS Charles Drew, a 689-foot, 42,000-ton dry cargo/ammunition ship. The 40-minute program will begin at 7 a.m. Feb. 27 in the NASSCO shipyard, located at the intersection of 28th Street and East Harbor Drive in San Diego. The public is invited to attend.

Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter recently announced the naming of the USNS Charles Drew, the tenth dry cargo-ammunition ship in the U.S. Navy’s program. The primary mission of the ship will be to deliver food, ammunition, fuel and other provisions to combat ships at sea.

Dr. Charles Drew is the father of the modern blood bank. In 1940 he published a paper showing that when plasma is separated from the rest of human blood, it can be stored for much longer periods of time. This discovery allowed the creation of blood banks, where donated plasma could be kept until urgently needed.

Dr. Drew became the medical director of the first Red Cross blood bank in 1941, and his discovery saved countless lives over the years. During World War II, he organized the world’s first blood bank drive, nicknamed “Blood for Britain.” Dr. Drew spent much of his later career teaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he also became chief of staff and medical director at nearby Freedman’s Hospital. He died after a 1950 car crash on the way to a medical conference in Tuskegee, Ala.

Dr. LaSalle Leffall, a prominent cancer surgeon, first black president of the American Cancer Society and the American College of Surgeons, was a student in the last class that Drew taught before his death. At a visit last year to Charles Drew University, Dr. Leffall recalled one of Dr. Drew’s famous sayings.

“He used to say that ‘Excellence of performance will transcend artificial barriers created by man.’ The artificial barriers he was talking about were discrimination,” said Dr. Leffall of Dr. Drew’s message.

Dr. Norris, who studied under Leffall at Howard University, said Dr. Drew’s words and deeds should not be forgotten. “We don’t talk enough about who he was and what he did,” Dr. Norris said. “We need to remind ourselves of his accomplishments.”


CDU is a private nonprofit, nonsectarian, minority-serving medical and health sciences institution. Located in the Watts-Willowbrook area of South Los Angeles, CDU has graduated more than 550 medical doctors, 2,500 post-graduate physicians, more than 2,000 physician assistants and hundreds of other health professionals. The only dually designated Historically Black Graduate Institution and Hispanic Serving Health Professions School in the U.S., CDU is recognized as a leader in translational and health inequities research, specifically with respect to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health, and HIV/AIDS. The university is among the top 7 percent of National Institutes of Health-funded institutions and rated one of the top 50 private universities in research in the U.S. Recently, the CDU/UCLA medical program was named the “best performer” in the University of California System with respect to producing outstanding underrepresented minority physicians. For more information, visit