It is sleek, mighty and gleaming silver as a Manhattan dawn. But this is a warship with real inner mettle. When the USS New York is christened today in Louisiana with a splash of champagne and a hearty cheer, few will overlook its motto: “Never forget.”
This brand new transport dock ship is bolstered with more than 7 tons of steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
“This is unique. To my knowledge, I don’t know of any other case in which symbolic materials associated with an event of historic magnitude have been used in a Navy vessel,” said historian Jack Green of the Naval Historic Center.
“This ship is important to the Navy and important to the sailors who will man it. The USS New York will project American power all over the world, supporting the cause of freedom and doing it in a way that honors the courage of the heroes and victims of September 11,” said Cmdr. Jeff Davis.
She is a big girl: The New York is 684 feet long, tasked to support the amphibious, special operations and expeditionary warfare missions of the Marine Corps. And it is quite capable of transporting a landing force of up to 800.
The steel will always be near, right below their boots.
Securing its destiny has taken time, though. The fire-scourged metal — pulled from the rubble of the Twin Towers shortly after September 11 — was melted down in a Louisiana forge almost five years ago and molded into a great hunk labeled “Unit 1120,” which would one day comprise the actual bow stem of the New York. Steelworkers at the Amite Foundry treated the metal with reverence; it was “a spiritual moment,” according to press accounts at the time.
Navy engineers inspected and cleared the reclaimed steel for use and the piece was affixed to the hull about a year ago — itself a patriotic act. Suspended from cranes, the huge component was draped with an American flag as it descended majestically through the air to its final spot out front.
About 5,000 people are expected at today’s ceremony at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems’ shipyard on the west bank of the Mississippi River, some 20 miles upriver from New Orleans.
“We’re excited, but we’re humbled by the fact that this ship memorializes 9/11, and the strength and resiliency of the people of New York. As this ship cuts through the water, the steel will be leading the way,” said Bill Glenn, a Northrop Grumman spokesman.
The ship’s name also has quite a pedigree: This is the fifth “New York” to sail the seas. The first was a gondola that served in 1776; the second, a frigate that served 1800 to 1814; the third, an armored cruiser that served 1893 to 1938, although it was renamed in 1911; and the fourth, a battleship that served 1914 to 1946, according to Navy records.
Former New York Gov. George E. Pataki initially requested that a Navy surface ship active in the war on terror be named to honor September 11 victims; the idea was approved in 2002.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England will preside over today’s ceremony; his wife Dotty will stand shoulder to shoulder with the hull, and in time-honored Navy tradition, break a bottle of champagne across the rejuvenated steel. The USS New York will spend the next year being completed, worked up and commissioned for service next year, and is scheduled to sail out of Norfolk.
The ship is not the only revered repository of World Trade Center steel, however.
In the past six years, New York officials have meted out several tons of the rescued metal to more than 100 groups across the nation for use as memorials — including a new church bell tower in New Mexico, a meditation site at a Tennessee high school and a remembrance statue at Manhattan’s Port Authority.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology was given a rumpled portion directly hit by the aircraft that crashed into the North Tower to use in its investigation of the building’s collapse that day.
“It is very sobering to be around this steel. It has a story to tell, and every piece of it is worth a thousand words,” spokesman Michael Newman told The Washington Times in 2002.
THE USS NEW YORK
The New York is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship named to honor both heroes and victims of September 11. Its 7-ton bow stem is made from steel salvaged from the World Trade Center wreckage.
Motto: “Never Forget.”
Length: 684 feet
Beam: 105 feet
Weight: 24,900 tons
Crew: 28 officers and 332 enlisted Navy personnel; three Marines
Power: Four Colt-Pielstick turbo-charged diesel engines.
Sustainable speed: More than 22 knots
Aircraft: Four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters or two MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft.
Armament: Two 30 mm close-in guns, two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers.
Troops: Can land up to 800 Marines
Transport: Two aircushion landing crafts (LCACs); 14 Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles.
Commander: Cmdr. F. Curtis Jones
Homeport: Norfolk, starting in 2009
Source: U.S. Navy