Fanfare Greets USS New York's arrival at Pier 88

Newsday - November 03, 2009


ABOARD THE USS NEW YORK - After two tugs nudged the Navy's newest warship alongside Pier 88 in Manhattan and deckhands sent heavy dock lines ashore, the voice of the amphibious assault vessel's officer of the deck rang out.

"Moored!" boomed Lt. Richard Zabawa of Saratoga Springs to personnel on the ship's bridge. Zabawa is one of the more than 30 New York State residents serving on the namesake craft.

With his announcement at 9:59 a.m. Monday, everyone on board let out a collective breath. The 684-foot, $1.2-billion ship had completed its two-week voyage from a Louisiana shipyard to the Big Apple for its commissioning Saturday without a hitch.

The USS New York, its bow containing 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the fallen Twin Towers, passed under the Verrazano Bridge and entered New York Harbor at 7:10 a.m.

It was escorted by four NYPD helicopters and a phalanx of Coast Guard and police boats as sailors and Marines manned loaded machine guns around the decks.

With its crew of 359 and a contingent of Marines from the 26th Expeditionary Force lining the rails in a brisk, cold wind, the New York exchanged whistle blast salutes with a passing Staten Island Ferry.

Then it was greeted with the traditional plumes of red, clear and blue water fountaining from four waiting city fireboats near Liberty and Governors islands.

"It's fantastic," said the captain, Cmdr. Curt Jones. "It really does feel like we're coming home."

At 8:12 a.m., the ship - flying a special flag presented by the Port Authority depicting the Twin Towers - halted in the Hudson River off Ground Zero to honor those lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Two whistles were sounded, the crew saluted and seven Marines on the fantail of the ship fired a 21-gun salute.

Firefighters and onlookers on shore acknowledged the tribute while aboard the ship, the head of the September 11th Families' Association, Lee Ielpi, had tears in his eyes.

"I'm thinking of my son" - Jonathan, 29, a firefighter and father of two killed on 9/11, and all those who gave their lives that fateful day, Ielpi said.

"It's a good day. We're smiling through our tears."

The warm welcome of crowds lining the Battery and other spots up the Hudson thrilled the crew and Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C. One Marine, Daniel Vieira, 21, of Lake Ronkonkoma, who enlisted two years ago and was making his first deployment at sea, said, "I'm proud to be on a ship that honors those who had fallen on 9/11."

Before docking at Pier 88 next to the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the ship steamed up the Hudson almost to the George Washington Bridge to show off its sleek radar-deflecting design before turning south to the temporary home it will occupy until a week from Wednesday.

After ceremonies, public visitation and the commissioning, it will return to its home port of Norfolk, Va.

Many on board had stayed up late Sunday to watch the World Series with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had ridden out in one of the New York's troop transport hovercrafts to the ship cruising 10 miles offshore.

Nonetheless, the day began as usual with the announcement of "reveille, reveille" and the trill of the bosun's pipe at 4 a.m. But there was also something special, a fitting tribute to the ship's heritage: a recording of Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York."

Welcome aboard!