NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Sailors and Marines aboard a warship forged with 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center held a remembrance ceremony Tuesday for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, pledging to do all in their power to prevent another tragedy from happening.
The USS New York is an amphibious transport dock steeped in symbolism from the 9/11 attacks, with many New Yorkers specifically requesting duty aboard the vessel now on its maiden deployment. When the New York was commissioned in 2009 it was broadcast live in Times Square. Its motto is "Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget."
The New York is currently operating in the Navy's 5th Fleet area of responsibility, which includes the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. In June, the ship transited through the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, the route for one-fifth of the world's oil that Iran has threatened to close.
The roughly 1,100 sailors and Marines onboard began their day listening to Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American" and heard a bell toll at the exact times each of four commercial airliners hit the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and crashed to the ground in Pennsylvania, respectively. The death tolls were read out loud.
Every crew member who wasn't on watch also gathered on the ship's flight deck for a ceremony in which they paid tributes to the victims of the attack and were reminded that they were serving as the "tip of the spear" in the fight to prevent future attacks.
"We often tell people, it's not just about that one day. The spirit here is really about what happened the next day and the next day and every day since," Capt. John Kreitz, the USS New York's commanding officer, said in a telephone interview. "That spirit pervades this ship."
The ceremony also included a choral rendition of the national anthem, a rifle salute and a re-enlistment ceremony while operating in the Gulf of Aden.
Although the ship is on a regularly scheduled deployment, the symbolism of being on patrol during the anniversary of the attacks isn't lost on those aboard. They relish the opportunity to show the nation's ability to bounce back.
"It represents a moving target that terrorists want to destroy," said Lance Cpl. Michael Smith, a 21-year-old Marine from Brooklyn, N.Y. serving aboard the ship. "They can't stop us at all."
The New York is the first of three ships named to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. The USS Arlington was christened last year and the USS Somerset was christened in July. Each of those ships' crests was featured in the Navy's official Facebook cover photo Tuesday and the Navy put a video highlighting what the USS New York means to its crew on its home page.
Steel from the Pentagon will be displayed in a small tribute room in the USS Arlington. The USS Somerset includes steel melted down from the bucket of a huge coal-mining crane that stood near the crash site. It was there that miners hung a large American flag to serve as a landmark and to honor the dead.
The New York's home port is Norfolk, Va., although it will move to Mayport, Fla. in 2013. Marines on the ship are from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Online: USS New York Navy 9/11 video http://www.navy.mil/viewVideo.asp?id=17558
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis