Pre-commissioning Unit Somerset (LPD 25), the U.S. Navy’s newest San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, was christened July 28 during a ceremony at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Avondale, La. What made this christening memorable was that the Somerset is named in honor of the brave passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, who thwarted their hijackers from reaching their destination on 9/11. Indeed, the courageous passengers and crew of Flight 93 battled with the hijackers in an attempt to take back control of the airplane, which ended up crashing in Somerset County, Pa. Along with USS New York and PCU Arlington, the Somerset is the third and last ship to be named in honor of those who lost their lives on 9/11. The christening was conducted in front of 1,800 guests, including family members of the Flight 93 heroes. Mary Jo Myers, the wife of Gen. Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had the honor of breaking the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow.
“The Somerset and her steadfast crew – now and in the future – are both a living tribute and vigilant reminder of sacrifice made to protect the lives of unknown others.”
The ceremony proved to be a touching experience for the families of the Flight 93 heroes who were in attendance. Patrick White, president of Families of Flight 93, was the principal speaker at the christening. “We thank our nation for honoring and remembering those 40 aboard Flight 93 with this extraordinary tribute, the Somerset,” said White. White lost his cousin, Louis J. Nacke II, aboard Flight 93. White also challenged the future crew of 360 sailors and Marines who will man the Somerset to live up to the example set by the passengers of Flight 93. “The Somerset and her steadfast crew – now and in the future – are both a living tribute and vigilant reminder of sacrifice made to protect the lives of unknown others,” said White.
Adding to the distinctive quality of the Somerset is the inclusion of steel from a dragline that was used to hang an American flag over the crash site of Flight 93. The bucket that was part of the dragline was melted down and now makes up part of the Somerset’s bow stem, much like the bow stem of the USS New York that includes steel from the World Trade Center. The dragline, which had been used in coal stripping, along with the attached flag, became a symbol of the American spirit during the recovery of wreckage at the site. Rear Adm. David H. Lewis, the Navy’s program executive officer for ships said, “This ship is named to honor that indomitable fighting spirit – the timeless American who will fight for the most basic human rights.”
“This ship is named to honor that indomitable fighting spirit – the timeless American who will fight for the most basic human rights.”
The unique qualities that went into the Somerset are not lost on Huntington Ingalls, the builder of the entire San Antonio-class of amphibious transport docks. “Like America, like the members of the Somerset families here today and like the shipbuilders of Avondale, these sailors and Marines will persevere in times of uncertainty and change,” said Huntington Ingalls Industries President and CEO Mike Petters. Ingalls Shipbuilding President Irwin F. Edenzon stressed that the workers at the Avondale shipyard knew the meaning of the ship and that they were building the Somserset “not only for the sailors and Marines who will sail in her, but as a tribute to the heroes of Flight 93 who protected our nation – with strength, pride and with our deepest gratitude and respect.” The Somerset is the ninth ship in the San Antonio class, with two more planned.
The Somserset will also be a welcome addition to the Navy’s amphibious warfighting capabilities, with an advanced command-and-control system, increased cargo-carrying capacity, more ample vehicle space, the combination of a well deck and flight deck, and advanced ship-survivability features. Even amidst these nuts and bolts details, the Navy knows it has a ship with a special meaning. Lewis noted that when millions of people worldwide see the Somerset, “they will read, they will see, they will learn, and they will be amazed.”
“They will read, they will see, they will learn, and they will be amazed.”
Editor’s Note: Faircount Media Group will be publishing the official program, Strength, Honor and Fortitude, for the USS Arlington‘s commissioning ceremony scheduled for March of 2013. The Arlington is the second of the three ships named for the 9/11 heroes.