The Twin Towers rose again in lower Manhattan yesterday as USS New York sailed into the city.
With a bow made from 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the wreckage of the Sept. 11 attacks, the New York, which will be officially commissioned Saturday, is the Navy's first warship to be forged out of an act of war.
Hundreds of sailors and Marines on the flight deck stood in the frigid rain saluting the World Trade Center site yesterday morning as a detail fired off a 21-gun salute in three thunderous bursts.
Families of 9/11 victims watching from Battery Park City's North Cove marina returned the salute.
"I'm proud that our military is using that steel," said Rosaleen Tallon, who lost her firefighter brother, Sean, on 9/11. "It's a transformation . . . from something really twisted and ugly."
After this somber moment, Petty Officers 1st Class Mike Sullivan and Paul Bershers, who stood watch at the bow, started singing Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind."
Although he was manning a .50-caliber machine gun on the ship's starboard side, when he spotted the Statue of Liberty in the distance, Seaman Brandon Waddell, 20, said he felt like a tourist seeing the landmark for the first time.
In a journey that was both maiden voyage and return trip to the city, the New York then passed Ground Zero and headed up the Hudson River flanked by an escort of NYPD and FDNY boats.
At the George Washington Bridge, the warship -- an amphibious-landing platform dock designed to deploy Marine battalions in counterterrorism operations -- made a U-turn.
Fireboats sprayed streams of red, white and blue water as the New York docked at Pier 88, next to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Cmdr. Curt Jones, the ship's skipper, steered the warship. He had a New York driver's license in his pocket. Like more than 10 percent of the crew, the Binghamton native hails from the Empire State.
As Jones disembarked, he said he felt "a combination of sheer humbleness, coupled with pride with being associated with this rebirth, this transformation."
"It's a professional dream come true," he said.
Mayor Bloomberg welcomed the ship and its crew at the pier during a short ceremony.
"Every friend that steps foot on it and every foe that dares to challenge it, will feel its power and know it was made from the heart and soul from the city that has sacrificed so much," Bloomberg said of the Twin Towers bow.
As hundreds of New Yorkers cheered the ship's arrival, many said that with Ground Zero still largely an open pit, USS New York was an important symbol for the city.
"This is the best memorial for 9/11," said Alice Labrie, 67, a retired foreign-service officer. "It's a good example of a memorial, because it's useful. As it travels around the world, it's a symbol of our recovery and strength."
Friends and relatives of the native New Yorkers aboard the ship waited for several hours before the sailors were given leave.
Javier Figueroa, of Brownsville, Brooklyn, waited with his mother and sister for his brother Alex to disembark.
"I am proud of my brother," he said with tears welling in his eyes. "We come from a bad neighborhood, and for him to accomplish what he has makes me proud -- him being from New York and the ship being built from that metal -- it's an honor."
Alex Figueroa embraced his brother, sister and mother when he disembarked from the ship and said, "I am back in my city."
The sailor said he planned to spend the night in Brooklyn with his family, have a dinner of beef stew and white rice and then watch the Yankees.
Sailors streamed off the $1.2 billion ship just before 5 p.m., most heading straight for Times Square to take in the sights.
But Seaman Ian Graves said that after leaving the state-of-the-art vessel, what he really wanted to do is swipe a MetroCard.
"The biggest thing I'm excited about in New York is riding the subway," he said. "That's gonna be fun as hell."