Quite a fitting location for its commissioning.
Aboard the USS New York, Lester Toledo of Miami, an electrician serving on the Navy's newest vessel, was psyched.
"It's my first ship," he said. "And I've never been to New York."
And he knew he would soon be entering the Big Apple in unique style as one of 359 crew members on this amphibious assault ship making its debut in the Empire State for its commissioning next Saturday.
"It's just amazing," Toledo, 20, said. "It's going to be like I see in the movies, with Times Square and everything. It's kind of overwhelming."
Named in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the USS New York is set to dock in its namesake state today.
The ship is to be greeted today by fire boats and other craft as it enters the harbor, and will dock at Pier 88 next to the aircraft carrier Intrepid for a week of festivities. The tentative schedule calls for the ship to pass under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at 7:35 a.m. It will halt near the World Trade Center site at 8 a.m. and render a 21-gun salute.
As the 684-foot, $1.2-billion ship cruised the Atlantic Ocean 5 miles off the Rockaways Saturday, anticipation among the new crew ran high, both from newcomers to the city and those from the metropolitan area.
The ship is full of memories of Sept. 11. Well known is that 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel has been melted into the bow. But the chaplain, the Rev. Laura Bender of Lake Ronkonkoma, pointed out that the religious symbols on the front of the ship's altar are also fashioned from steel from the Twin Towers.
"It's wonderful being on this ship," said Bender, who is an 11th generation New Yorker and one of about 10 Long Islanders aboard. "The ship for me is a symbol of how life always comes from death and strength comes from adversity. I really feel we are sailing the World Trade Center home and there will be a lot of healing just by moving past Ground Zero and saluting the site and receiving a salute back from the fire department."
John Tavares Nassau Coliseum Stanley Cup Dwayne Roloson Montreal Canadiens The ship's boatswain, Fred Tiedemann of Woodside, a 26-year Navy veteran who oversees the deck equipment, said he has served on a dozen ships. But "this one is special. I'm from New York and I know some of the people who went down in the towers. It's going to be pretty special" returning that seven and a half tons of steel to Manhattan. "It means a lot to the crew."
VIPs and Sept. 11 first responders were flown out to the ship by Marine Chinook helicopters, including Ferg Foley, chief operating officer for American Defense Systems, a Hicksville defense contractor. On Sept. 11 he was the senior officer in Manhattan for the Army National Guard and spent two weeks coordinating the response at Ground Zero.
"It's amazing" to be onboard, Foley said, "just knowing that it has some of that steel from Ground Zero and that it represents the fighting spirit of the United States. You can sense the pride of the servicemen and women working on the ship."
For Lt. Melissa Proud of Glen Cove, the supply officer, the New York is her second ship in a decade in the Navy. She has been aboard for more than a year. She said the New York and its sister ships are the first to have "sit-up bunks" that give the crew enough space to sit up in the beds that are stacked three deep.
The lower levels of the ship are largely occupied with a hangar bay filled with two helicopters and two levels below where vehicles from a tank to a Humvee are parked, along with two amphibious air-cushioned troop carriers powered by a pair of giant propellers that are launched from a floodable well deck.
On the wide bridge, more than a dozen personnel navigated with charts and radar and other video screens, while one sailor steered with a small black wheel and the captain, Cmdr. Curt Jones, watched from a padded chair on the starboard side. In the center of the pilothouse floor was the ship's emblem showing the Twin Towers and a phoenix rising from the ashes.