Last of 9/11 warships commissioned today

Navy ship is full of memorabilia


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PHILADELPHIA -- The USS Somerset doesn't simply honor those who fought and died aboard United Flight 93. From stem to stern, the gleaming warship embodies their spirits and preserves the memory of what has come to be known as America's first strike in the war against terror.

The bow stem, the leading edge of the ship that cuts its path through the sea, was made from the melted-down remnants of a dragline crane, an old coal-shoveling machine that had been abandoned. The crane became a prominent landmark near the field where the hijacked Boeing 757 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Plaques with the names of the 40 passengers and crew and ceremonial decking were made from maple trees salvaged at the site in Stonycreek, Somerset County.

The words "Let's Roll" -- the rallying cry of the passengers and crew who stormed the cockpit to overpower the four hijackers -- are inscribed across the rear of the superstructure.

The ship's motto, "Virtus per adversa," "Strength through adversity," is visible throughout.

The Somerset is the last of three warships built to commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks, along with the New York and the Arlington, named for the Virginia location of the Pentagon.

The ship will be formally commissioned in Philadelphia today as an estimated 7,000 people look on, including its 400-member crew, families of Flight 93 passengers and crew, and shipbuilders who traveled from the Louisiana yard where the Somerset took shape over four years.

"This is a momentous occasion that completes the life cycle of the ship," said Capt. Thomas Dearborn, commanding officer. "We start the engine, turn on the radar, and truly bring the ship to life."

The Somerset, a 684-foot amphibious transport dock designed to move equipment and troops, is the first naval vessel commissioned in Philadelphia since 2009.

"This is historical," said Thomas Metzger, president of the Philadelphia Council of the Navy League of the United States, a civilian group that supports naval causes, including welcoming sailors, like those on the Somerset, to the port of Philadelphia with soft pretzels.

The ship is not likely to deploy before 2016, Capt. Dearborn said, because it has more testing and sea trials to conduct from its home port of San Diego. By then, it will be ready to mobilize, whether for war or relief.

Throughout the ship's otherwise spartan interior are reminders of Flight 93 and symbols of Somerset County. A map of the county is painted on the floor. Road signs from boroughs and townships were placed on passageway walls. The words Never Forget are etched on the deck.

A giant American flag -- designed by Harrisburg resident and political activist Gene Stilp -- with 93 embroidered in its field of stars is positioned beside a memory quilt with 40 squares, personalized with pictures and mementos of those who died.

John Talignani's square holds a Mets insignia. In Richard Guadagno's is a badge from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where he worked as a refuge officer. Colleen Fraser is remembered for fighting for the rights of disabled people, Donald Greene as a "lover of lobster." Jeremy Glick's square includes the seal of the National Collegiate Judo Association and the University of Rochester.

One of the few things that James Zendarski, 20, of Scranton, remembers about 9/11 is being pulled from his sixth-grade class.

Today he is a seaman assigned to the Somerset. He said he enlisted because the Navy is in his blood -- his father and other relatives served -- and he jumped at the chance to serve aboard the Somerset.

"Being from Pennsylvania, I had to take the offer," he said, beaming as he described helping outfit the ship over two years at the Avalon shipyard near New Orleans. "It gives me a big sense of pride."


Amy Worden: aworden@phillynews.com or 1-717-783-2584.

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