USS Somerset a floating tribute to the heroism of those on Flight 93
PHILADELPHIA — Aboard the USS Somerset on the Delaware River on Thursday, Capt. Thomas L. Dearborn reflected on his first visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial last year.
“Being there on their hallowed ground, listening to their speeches, meeting with the family members and friends, was a very moving experience,” he said.
Now, he commands the 634-foot-long ship, a floating tribute to the heroism of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, who stormed the cockpit, wrested control from the hijackers and crashed the plane in Stonycreek.
“All of the memorial tributes that we have made from Shanksville, Pa., all that that stands for, will lead (USS) Somerset throughout the oceans of the world and will be constant reminders of those heroic actions of those 40 crew members and passengers,” Dearborn said following a tour of the state-of-the-art ship.
Docked at Penn's Landing with the Philadelphia skyline its backdrop, the ship will be commissioned in a formal ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“What Somerset brings is a 21st century amphibious shipbuilding and war-fighting technology, to provide the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps the ability to embark various aircraft. We also have the ability to embark landing craft ... that can actually hover on the surface of the water. And it can carry both troops and equipment,” he said.
The ship can carry a significant amount of humanitarian relief, Dearborn said.
“There is a tremendous need for not only foreign humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, but in the homeland as well, which we refer to as defense support to civil authority. What this ship provides is a capability to bring a lot of relief and supplies on board,” he said.
Equipped with two full operating rooms, the ship has “the capability of some of the larger hospitals that you may have in the Philadelphia area,” Dearborn said.
The ship is designed to launch Ch-46 helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and assault watercraft to bring as many as 1,200 troops ashore. Its four diesels can power the ship in excess of 22 knots, or 26.2 miles. Its armament includes two missile launchers and 10 machine guns.
Many of the 400 crew members were in junior high school or younger during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Petty Officer 2nd Class Patricia Steele, 27, of Oak Harbor, Wash., said she was in a ninth-grade science class when she watched on television as the World Trade Center towers, struck by hijacked planes, eventually collapsed.
Serving aboard the USS Somerset is a “huge honor,” said Steele, a self-described “Navy brat” who is in charge of the weapons systems and trains crew members in anti-terrorism and nonlethal weapons.
“I have the responsibility not only for myself and my family, but to the 40 crew members (and passengers) who perished on that plane,” Steele said.
The USS Somerset is the ninth San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. Its name reflects the county whose residents were among the first to respond to the emergency and to console victims' loved ones.
The warship is one of more than 100 named in honor of places and people in Pennsylvania, including the USS John Murtha.
Markers and mementos throughout the ship tell the story of Somerset County and the heroes of Flight 93.
The ship carries a U.S. flag that flew on a coal dragline on a hill above the crash site.
Steel from the drag-line bucket of a coal-mining crane was used in the ship's bow, and its steam and lubrication systems include about 200 steel valves made in the county.
Hallways are marked with green and white signs from each of Somerset County's 50 municipalities.
Maple from a tree-clearing project along Route 219 was milled into ship flooring.
The National Park Service donated a shovel and mallet from September's ground-breaking ceremony for the Flight 93 National Memorial.
Victims' family members contributed coins and mementos that were part of the ship's construction.
Emblazoned atop the hangar door is the number 93 and the rallying cry that passenger Todd Beamer uttered as he and others banded together against the terrorists — “Let's Roll.”
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401.