Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.
Our favorite Marine was home last week. Now he’s a thousand miles away on the USS New York, a storied warship forever tethered to the Twin Towers and the fight against terrorism.
Like other amphibious assault ships, the USS New York’s primary mission is to transport and land Marines — up to 700 of them — with all their necessary equipment and supplies. She does it in sleek, state-of-the-art style with a flight deck that can handle four Osprey helicopters at once, and a well deck that carries tanks, 5-ton trucks, Humvees, and water buffaloes (400-gallon water trailers) with ease.
One commander describes the formidable presence of the USS New York as a strong deterrent: “When we come into your waterway, we bring a lot of capabilities with us so that we can remain an instrument of freedom and peace.”
Unlike other similar vessels, the USS New York is a floating memorial forged with steel from the rubble of the World Trade Center. The ship literally rose from the ashes of the downed 110-story skyscrapers — 7.5 tons of salvaged steel form its bow.
Just after 9-11, New York Governor George Pataki asked the Navy to honor victims by naming a surface ship involved in the War on Terrorism in their honor. Although state names are usually reserved for submarines, the request was approved, and Northrop Grumman Ship Systems of New Orleans was contracted to build the vessel.
Steel from the Twin Towers was melted down at a foundry in Amite, Louisiana, on Sept. 9, 2003, and poured into molds to form the ship’s “stem bar,” or part of the bow. Shipyard workers treated it with great respect, and one even delayed his retirement to be part of the project. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, more than 1,200 workers stayed on at the shipyard to construct the New York.
The $1 billion warship made its inaugural visit to the Big Apple in 2009, stopping near Ground Zero where first responders, families of 9-11 victims, and the public were invited to watch a 21-gun salute. Photos from the Veterans Day event show news helicopters mobbing the amphibious transport ship.
Rosaleen Tallon, whose firefighter brother Sean Tallon died in the attacks, told the Associated Press it was a nice tribute, adding that her brother, who also was a Marine, would be proud: “It’s a transformation from something really twisted and ugly. I’m proud that our military is using that steel.”
Two of the vessel’s sister ships also bear names commemorating the 9-11 attacks: The USS Arlington, to honor the attack on the Pentagon, and the USS Somerset, after the county in Pennsylvania where United Airlines flight 93 crashed.
In 2014, the USS New York became a floating prison, playing high-seas warden for Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged leader of the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. His week-long transport gave military and civilian interrogators a window of opportunity — time to seek critical bits of intelligence before his formal arrest.
The ship’s mission was temporarily redefined by the new passenger in their midst, but the overall objective remained the same. As one official put it, “We are serving on board so that we can not only honor those victims who died in the World Trade Center, but when we bring the fight to the enemy, we don’t have to go through another 9-11.”
This isn’t Son No. 3’s first time on board the USS New York. He tells me about the 9-11 memorabilia scattered throughout the decks — firefighter uniforms, caps, plaques, a subway sign.
“In the well deck where they come in at the bottom of ship, there’s a mangled I-beam from one of the Twin Towers,” he says. “They’ve cut into it and listed how many New York City lost from various departments.” He remembers he took a photograph of it and sends it my way. The numbers are hard to read: NYPD — 23 KIA, FDNY — 343 KIA, PAPD — 37 KIA.
He goes on to tell me about the back of the ship where there’s a flight deck and a hangar. “The doors are painted with an image of the Twin Towers and the phrase ‘Never Forget,’” he adds. “You can see it from a couple of miles away.”
The USS New York also has a motto: Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.
I’d say they’re not only good words for that ship. They’re good words worth borrowing as we head toward Nov. 11.
So, to our favorite Marine and his battalion out there in international waters, and to all the rest of you who are serving or have served in our military — Happy Veterans Day. Our nation’s strength has been forged through your sacrifice. May we never forget.
Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com.