The Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans honor guard renders honor to San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock New York as the vessel passes on the Mississippi River after departing Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in Avondale, La., on Oct. 13. The $1 billion ship named to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks includes 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center in its bow, and is scheduled to be commissioned in early November in New York. (PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS JOHN P. CURTIS / NAVY)
Exactly 2,979 days after the World Trade Center fell, and not far from Ground Zero, the Navy's newest warship was commissioned with more than 7 tons of steel recovered from the Twin Towers' wreckage.
Christened "The New York," it's part of the Navy's fleet of San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks, capable of unleashing some 700 Marines from both its helicopter-carrying flattop and hovercraft-launching well deck.
Retired Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing was there when foundry workers poured molten steel to form the ship's bow stem.
"It was almost a spiritual thing, with the workers quietly walking up to touch the steel and say a prayer before it was melted down and poured," he said. At the time, Wensing was an assistant to then-Navy Secretary Gordon England, who named the ship and also gave the New York its motto: "Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget." But the words themselves came from President George W. Bush in his first Pentagon huddle with top leaders after the attacks, even while the building still smoldered.
"He looked around the room and pointed to each person and said, ‘Never forget, never forget what happened and never forget how it made you feel,'" Wensing said.
Leading the crew of some 360 sailors is New York native son Cmdr. Curt Jones.
"This is one ship that's got a lot of purpose and meaning behind its construction," Jones said. "Each one of us knows and feels those losses."
The warship is slated to enter New York Harbor on Nov. 2 with a complement of Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, said Lt. Cmdr. Suzanna Brugler. Escorted by a "parade of sail" including fireboats and a World War II PT boat, the flotilla will pause near Ground Zero to render a 21-gun salute before docking at Pier 88, opposite the USS Intrepid Museum.
Once the order to "man the ship and bring her to life" is given, the New York will be assigned to Norfolk's 2nd Fleet.