The USS New York, an amphibious assault ship built with scrap steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center, was christened Saturday as a source of strength and inspiration for the nation.
Thousands of people, including friends and families of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, gathered near the hulking gray ship, trimmed in red, white and blue banners.
The bow stem, which contains 7.5 tons of steel from the site, bore a shield with two gray bars to symbolize the twin towers and a banner over that declaring "Never Forget," a slogan among New Yorkers.
"May God bless this ship and all who sail on her," ship sponsor Dotty England said before smashing a bottle of champagne against it, producing a loud thump to go with the spurting liquid and flying streamers.
Painful memories and pride
Story after story of lives lost in, and touched by, the attacks peppered the ceremony, held under the blazing sun and broadcast on large screens. It all brought back painful memories for New York Police Lt. Matt Murphy. But the reason for his being here, though, was a source of pride, he said.
"I tell you, it's a fantastic day. Sometimes you think you're over something," he said, his eyes welling up as he looked off toward the ship, "and then you realize you're not completely."
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told the crowd that ship names provide a legacy, and that for their crews they serve as a source of strength and inspiration.
When the attacks occurred, the ship was planned but had no name. Then-New York Gov. George Pataki asked the Navy to commemorate the disaster by reviving the name New York. That required an exception to Navy policy of assigning state names only to nuclear submarines.
The steel from the towers is now part of the ship that splices through the water, leading the way.
"It resurrects the ashes, so to speak, to do great things for our nation," said Bill Glenn, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, the ship builder.
Katrina struck during construction
Along with the steel from one of the worst terrorist attacks in the U.S., it also survived one of the nation's worst natural disasters: Hurricane Katrina.
The ship motivated many of the Avondale shipyard workers to return to the job, even though many lost their homes in the 2005 storm.
The billion-dollar, 25,000-ton vessel is 684 feet long, 105 feet wide. It is the fifth in a new class of warship, designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists. It can carry a crew of about 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.
USS New York's prospective commanding officer is Cmdr. F. Curtis Jones, a native New Yorker. It is to be commissioned, essentially added to the fleet, next year. It could be used as part of peaceful missions or as part of war, said Adm. Gary Roughead, the Navy's chief of operations.
That it could be used in war did not bother Lee Ielpi, president of the September 11th Families' Association, whose son, Jonathan, a firefighter, died in the attacks. The ship won't be used for war "unless you bother us," he said in an interview.
"We're sending a message that we're standing strong," he said, adding: "This ship, as it cuts through the water, is going to send a ripple. That ripple will say, 'We cherish our freedom.'"
Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., said Sept. 11 was a turning point in the nation, and will never be forgotten because remnants of the disaster are part of the ship.
"If the USS New York has to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, PCO Jones and his crew ... have my full support," he said to a standing ovation.