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Sen. Toomey: Navy to launch USS Somerset in Philadelphia

Mary Pickels
| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 9:52 a.m.
The USS Somerset will be commissioned in Philadelphia.
The USS Somerset will be commissioned in Philadelphia.

Ken Nacke of Baltimore hopes to be in Philadelphia in January as the Navy commissions the USS Somerset, formally placing the ship into active service.

Nacke's brother, Louis J. Nacke II, was one of 40 passengers and crew members aboard United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, when the plane, overtaken by terrorists, crashed in a field near Shanksville in Somerset County.

The USS Somerset honors their sacrifice, and their families lobbied for the ceremony to be held in Philadelphia.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey announced on Thursday that the commissioning is planned for early 2014. A date has not been set.

It's an honor the Families of Flight 93 have anticipated.

“Heartfelt thanks from Flight 93 families go to senators Toomey and Robert P. Casey Jr.; representatives Bill Shuster, Keith Rothfus and Carl Metzgar; and to Secretary of the Navy (Ray) Mabus for their outstanding efforts to arrange for the commissioning of the USS Somerset in the state of Pennsylvania. The heroes of Flight 93 by virtue of their heroic actions changed the course of America in Somerset County on Sept. 11, 2001,” group President Gordon Felt said in a statement.

His brother, Edward Porter Felt, died aboard Flight 93.

The legislators drafted resolutions or wrote letters to Mabus in support of holding the commissioning ceremony in Philadelphia.

“Somerset is an important ship for the Navy and our nation, and commissioning her in the Port of Philadelphia will make the event even more meaningful. Once I learned it was possible to commission Somerset in Philadelphia, it was the obvious choice for me to make,” Mabus said in a statement.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said he worked with Toomey and Casey to urge the Navy to consider the Pennsylvania port.

“They were the driving force behind this,” Vatavuk said.

“I thought it would be fitting to have (the commissioning) someplace close to the people of Somerset, so they can make the journey if they wish. I'm very pleased it's on the East Coast,” Nacke said.

“I will attend. If it's anything like the christening, it would be foolish not to go see it. My dad served in the Navy,” he said.

“But it's also what it stands for. It's an amphibian ship on the leading edge of the continued fight against terrorism.”

In July, Flight 93 family members were able to tour portions of the ship while it was under construction, Nacke said.

They were able to contribute items to a box of mementos to be welded to the ship's mast. A “stepping the mast” ceremony is a Navy tradition on every ship.

“What I thought was really neat, the crew put the 40 (coins) for each of the heroes into the box. That was their contribution,” Nacke sad.

Vatavuk and his wife, Janet, last year gathered items that represent Somerset County for the mast stepping, including maple syrup.

He worked to include steel from the drag-line bucket of a coal-mining crane in the ship's bow, and its steam and lubrication systems include about 200 steel valves made in the county.

Vatavuk said 9-by-36-inch green and white signs from each Somerset County municipality will hang in the ship's hallways, in place of numbers. Maple from a tree-clearing project along Route 219 will be milled into flooring for the ship's museum.

Nacke was among numerous Flight 93 family members who attended the ship's christening on July 28 in New Orleans.

“It was something to see. ... It was phenomenal. We met the crew who will be on her. ... There was great appreciation for the heroes of Flight 93,” Nacke said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

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