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USS New York: A Ship Forged From Tragedy

CEG looks back at the construction of a ship made from World Trade Center steel.

Mon June 11, 2007 - National Edition
Mary Reed

Despite geographical distance, a strong link connects the destroyed World Trade Center in New York City and the Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (NGSS) shipyard in Avondale, La., which, like nearby New Orleans, was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The bond between them is the U.S. Navy ship currently under construction in Avondale, for the vessel's bow stem was cast from steel salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade Center.

Cleanup efforts after 9/11 included removal of approximately 200,000 tons (181,437 t) of steel, much of which was sold worldwide to be reused for various purposes. However, an I-beam was retained to be recast for the Navy vessel's bow stem, the most forward part of a ship. The role of the bow stem is to forge a path through the water, leading the ship to its mission.

Brought by truck to the Amite Foundry and Machine Inc. in Amite, La., the WTC steel was stored apart from other loads of metal to avoid accidental mixing. The WTC steel was smelted and cast at the Amite Foundry on Sept. 9, 2003. It was the first pouring for the ship, which will be christened USS New York.

During a ceremony marking the occasion, Dotty England, wife of Gordon England, the then secretary of the Navy, pulled a lever sending molten WTC steel into the bow-stem mold.

Among those present were company, shipyard, foundry, state, and federal officials as well a number of sailors from New York. England is the sponsor of the ship and during her speech stated, "For all those who will build and those who will serve aboard the USS New York and for all who suffered from the attacks of 9/11 … let us never forget."

The vessel was already at the design stage but still without a name on Sept. 11, 2001. George Pataki, then governor of New York, requested the Navy name the ship New York in honor of the victims of 9/11 and their rescuers. There had already been six ships named after New York, as well as a nuclear submarine that retired from service in 1997.

A keel-laying ceremony for LPD 21, the official Navy designation for the ship until she is commissioned, was held on Sept. 10, 2004, at Northrop Grumman's Avondale shipyard. Gordon and Dotty England were in attendance, along with other dignitaries including Rear Admiral Charles Hamilton of the U.S. Navy and Lt. Gen. Dennis McCarthy of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, as well as Northrop Grumman Ship Systems officials.

On this occasion England had her initials ceremoniously welded by an Avondale shipyard welder into a steel plate, which will be displayed on the ship, and she then declared the keel "formally and fairly laid."

Katrina Delays Construction

Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, headquartered in Pascagoula, Miss., is part of global defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation, based in Los Angeles, Calif.

Construction of the New York began in 2004 at Northrop Grumman's Avondale facility, but Hurricane Katrina caused all the ships being built by Ship Systems to be thrown off schedule by several months. However, since post-Katrina schedule adjustments were made New York has remained on target for its estimated delivery date in late 2008.

According to the company, Katrina did tremendous damage to its Pascagoula shipyard and Gulfport facility, both of which are on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, with a devastating storm surge that knocked out buildings and all infrastructure. The Pascagoula yard alone suffered several millions dollars of destruction. However, the Avondale shipyard had serious wind damage, but it had no surge or flooding and was operational again a few weeks after the storm. The biggest problem faced was dealing with the destruction of their facilities, the community, housing, and, primarily, the loss of workers whose homes were destroyed and who therefore could not come back to work. More workers for the yards are still needed, and the ongoing problem of sufficient housing availability remains.

Construction of New York resumed a few weeks after the hurricane passed, when increasingly more employees were able to return to work. More than 200 workers were temporarily housed at Avondale in dormitory style living quarters dubbed Kamp Katrina. They were to remain there for months following Katrina, although, as of May, only approximately 30 were still in residence.

Currently, the ship is approximately 58 percent complete. The ship is nearly completely unit-erected, except for the aft composite mast. England will christen the ship during a ceremony scheduled later this year. Several hundred employees are working on the ship, although at peak production it was well over a thousand workers.

Emotional Response to WTC Steel

There has been great emotional response to the WTC steel among the shipyard workers at Avondale.

Tony Quaglino, crane superintendent of NGSS, was one of those evacuated from the area and acknowledged that it was only with the help of other communities that local residents were able to begin rebuilding their lives.

He had worked for NGSS for more than 40 years and was due to retire in October 2004.

"But when I found out that the LPD 21 was to be named New York, in homage of the victims and heroes who died in the vicious and cowardly attack of 9/11, I felt compelled to stay and work on this fitting memorial and tribute," he said. "I was then and am still honored to have worked on this ship."

Noting that the motto of the ship is "Never Forget," he said he believes America must never forget it is one nation.

"What happens in New York, New Orleans, or Oklahoma City, happens to us all. I believe this ship, the New York, is an icon attesting to the determined and united spirit of America to persevere and protect the future of our children against our enemies and that is why I wanted to make this my last ship.

"Most all of us considered the bow stem containing the WTC steel very special. Many of us working on the ship, including myself, felt a need to touch it and try to experience and understand the grief of those who died and the loss of all who loved them and had to go on," he continued. "It was then and is still now our only way to personally connect to the tragic events of 9/11. I felt that in many ways this was as brutal and devastating an attack on our nation as was Pearl Harbor, when I was a child."

The bow section of the New York was placed by crane on March 14, 2006.

"The two cranes making the bow stem lift were Am-Clydes. Their capacity is 200 short tons each," Quaglino said. "Although the complete modular unit, which also included the bow stem with the World Trade Center steel, totaled out at 93 tons, I still used two cranes to lift it, with one on the forward end and one on the aft for better control as we were positioning it for the ship fitters."

Quaglino retired on June 1, 2007, and Michael Norman succeeded him as crane superintendent.

"When that bow stem containing the World Trade Center steel got to our New Orleans shipyard, everyone just wanted to look at it and touch it, everyone was drawn to it, like some kind of magnet," Norman recalled. "You can't really explain what you are feeling, but you know what it represents, and for that reason, it was special. We are all very proud to be building this great ship."

Randy Edwards, assistant to the LPD 21 ship superintendent, agreed.

"Everyone saw the horror of 9/11 on TV, and there wasn't anything we could do about it at the time. But when that WTC steel got here, and we found out it was going to be a part of a ship named New York, it touched a lot of people. Made us feel like now we can do something in response to 9/11," he said. "It provided us with a way to show support for all those people in New York, for all that they suffered through. I believe everyone working on this ship thinks about that every day, and they don't complain about working in the heat or cold or rain like they usually do. It is a special ship."

The yard workers' feeling of kinship with the people of New York was underlined by Glenn Clement, superintendent of the paint department.

"It's important to me and the rest of the workers to be a part of this ship, especially with the tangible reminder of the World Trade Center steel as a part of it," he noted. "What happened to us with Katrina added to that emphasis. We felt a bind, a kindred spirit, with the people of New York, for having gone through a disaster like them. It hit home for us because of all the trials and tribulations we were going through after Katrina, we could identify and feel their loss even more."

In summing up, Ed Winter, communications site manager of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems' Avondale Operations, also spoke of the close ties between New York and the Louisiana shipyard workers.

"Our men and women are very proud and honored to have the privilege of building such a special ship for the Navy not only because it will be used in defense of our nation, but also because it honors the memory of the heroes and victims of the 9/11 attacks on New York," he said.

About the USS New York

The USS New York is the fifth in a multi-ship Navy program that began with the award of the first ship to Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in 1996. This new class of Navy warships is 684 ft. (208.4 m) long, 105 ft. (31.9 m) wide, and displaces approximately 25,000 tons (22,676 t), most of which is the weight of the steel used to construct them.

They are the second-largest warships in the U.S. Navy 21st Century Expeditionary Strike Force. Known as amphibious transport dock vessels, they will be used to transport, launch and recover amphibious landing craft as well as providing takeoff and landing facilities for helicopters and rotary-wing aircraft. The USS San Antonio (LPD 17), the first ship in this class to be built, was delivered to the Navy in 2005 and commissioned the following year.

The USS New York will be crewed by 360 Navy personnel and have the capacity to carry approximately 700 Marines, or as many as 800 if necessary. Its home port will be Newport, Va.

Other ships to be constructed under this contract will carry names also commemorating events of 9/11, including the Arlington, where the Pentagon is located, and the Somerset, the rural Pennsylvania county where United Flight 93 crashed after passengers overcame the hijackers. CEG

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