The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.
Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.
Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.
A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.
White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.
But the president denied on Twitter on Wednesday night having any involvement: “I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan.”
Mr. McCain, of Arizona, who died last year from brain cancer, was derided repeatedly during his life by Mr. Trump, who once disparaged Mr. McCain’s service because he had been held as a war prisoner in Vietnam, saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
The president’s animosity toward the senator did not subside with his death.
Navy officials approached last week by The New York Times about plans for the McCain during Mr. Trump’s visit declined to comment. But one official said on Thursday that sailors aboard the destroyer were told to hide signs that identified that warship during Mr. Trump’s visit.
The White House request to hide the name of Mr. Trump’s rival, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is the second episode to engulf the Navy in Mr. Trump’s single visit to the Wasp.
At least a few service members wore round patches emblazoned with a likeness of Mr. Trump and the words “Make Aircrew Great Again” — a play on the president’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” — on their flight suits while listening to their commander in chief speak.
Images of the patches promptly went viral. “They’re inappropriate & against regulation,” tweeted Mark Hertling, a retired three-star Army general.
Just days later, the Navy was embroiled in the McCain news. “All ships remained in normal configuration during the president’s visit,” said Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Navy spokesman.
The acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, denied knowledge of the White House request. “When I read about it this morning, it was the first I’ve heard about it,” he told reporters on Thursday during an appearance with his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta. Asked if he planned to order an investigation into the matter, he said, “I want to find out a little bit more.”
The Wasp, an amphibious assault ship that hosts the new F-35B Lightning fighter jets, had actually been in Sasebo, Japan, and was moved to Yokosuka in time for the president’s visit.
The Chief of Naval Information, the public affairs arm of the Navy, posted on Twitter for the first time in five and a half years over the matter. “The name of the U.S.S. John S. McCain was not obscured during the POTUS visit to Yokosuka on Memorial Day,” the Navy said, using an acronym for president of the United States.
The disclosure that the Navy entertained a request to hide a warship named after an American war hero from a president who did not serve is likely to resurface questions about whether Mr. Trump has politicized the military.
Mr. Shanahan, the president’s pick to become defense secretary — and who will soon be visiting Tokyo after his time in Jakarta — has taken pains to go along with White House requests, many of which were delayed by his predecessor, Jim Mattis. But this effort could make Mr. Shanahan’s confirmation fight in Congress more difficult.
The destroyer John S. McCain is named after the senator, as well as his grandfather, John S. McCain Sr., a Navy admiral during World War II, and his father, John S. McCain Jr., an admiral in the Vietnam era.
Meghan McCain, John McCain’s daughter, spoke out on Twitter on Wednesday night against the White House request. Ms. McCain, who has rebuked the president over how he has spoken about her father, wrote that Mr. Trump was “threatened by the greatness of my dads incredible life,” adding that in the “nine months since he passed, Trump won’t let him RIP.”