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Tokens sought for USS Somerset ceremony

| Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 11:28 p.m.
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk and his wife, Janet, are collecting items for the USS Somerset's 'stepping the mast' ceremony. Items the couple has gathered so far include a key to Somerset Borough, county courthouse postcard, Laurel Highlands CIT lapel pin, Flight 93 patch, Somerset Borough bicentennial marble, courthouse ornament, Flight 93 brochure, Flight 93 medallion, Flight 93 lapel pin, Flight 93/Quecreek Mine Rescue license plate, Somerset Magazine, Somerset lapel pin, state and U.S. flags, Somerset County map and a bottle of Meyersdale's pure maple syrup. Courtesy of John and Janet Vatavuk

Wherever the USS Somerset sails, it will carry tokens representing its namesake county, along with several items acknowledging the sacrifice of those aboard United Flight 93.

As part of a July 28 christening ceremony called "stepping the mast," items to be tucked into the ship's mast will include a pin marking the 10th anniversary of Flight 93, a bottle of Meyersdale's famed maple syrup and a marble issued to mark Somerset Borough's 2004 bicentennial celebration.

The USS Somerset Landing Platform Dock is named for Somerset County, where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. The 40 passengers and crew members were credited with storming the cockpit and preventing terrorists from crashing the plane into landmarks in Washington.

Larry A. Lynch, command master chief, Pre-Commissioning Detachment Somerset asked county Commissioner John Vatavuk to gather items for the ceremony.

"The purpose is to bring good luck to the ship and the crew. My wife, Janet, and I agreed to do it," Vatavuk said on Tuesday.

Bill Glenn, Ingalls Shipbuilding spokesman, said a mast stepping is a Navy tradition on every ship.

County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes gave Vatavuk the syrup in a bottle shaped like a maple leaf. County officials contributed a key to the borough, the bicentennial marble and patches from police and fire departments.

"We certainly want to be a part of this," Borough Manager Benedict G. Vinzani Jr. said.

Vatavuk has acquired a Flight 93 brochure and medallion, a Somerset County map, an ornament of the county courthouse and a license plate that's a duplicate of the one on his own car.

"I was saving it. I decided to give it to them," he said.

Sold by a local Lions Club years ago, it reads FLT93-949, and commemorates both Flight 93 and the 2002 accident at the Quecreek Mine that stranded nine miners 240 feet underground for 77 hours.

Both events brought national attention to the small, rural county.

In the summer of 2008, steel from a dragline bucket on a hill near the Flight 93 crash site was melted down and cast into the ship's bow stem.

In January 2011, 22 members of the Families of Flight 93 signed their names and those of loved ones on the ship's hull in Avondale, La.

The ship launched April 14 from Huntington Ingalls Industries' shipyard in Avondale, according to the Naval Sea Systems Command.

The Somerset is the last of three ships named to honor heroes of the 9/11 attacks, joining the USS New York and USS Arlington.

Vatavuk plans to attend the ship's christening. He said the items will be displayed first in a shadow box for viewing, then transferred to a steel box.

The box will be welded shut and stay with the ship until it is decommissioned, he said.

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