A Worthy Vessel

By on January 1, 2010
RoadKing Mag

When the USS New York’s bow stem, made from 7.5 tons of steel retrieved from Ground Zero, broke through the waves en route from New Orleans to New York City, Julius Williams and some of his fellow shipbuilders took a break from their jobs and watched.

Williams, a shipbuilder for 43 of his 61 years, has no doubt that this amphibious assault ship is the most important job he and his colleagues have ever completed.

“From one to 10, I’d rank it a 10,” says the welder one day after the 684-foot-long, 105-foot-wide ship sailed from the Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding’s Avondale Shipyard, near New Orleans, bound for Navy commissioning ceremonies in New York City.

“My thoughts were it was history in the making,” he says of the four years spent building the ship. “My patriotism was high.”

He notes that the shipbuilders all felt blessed to be building the USS New York LPD 21 (Landing Platform Dock) which will serve as a working monument to the victims of 9/11 by delivering Marines and their equipment into the heart of the war on terror.

Using hallowed remains of the World Trade Center in the ship’s construction was a soul-stirring experience for the shipbuilders.

“Embedded in the core of this mighty ship are the souls of mighty heroes, never to be forgotten,” said Ron Parker, a retired Brooklyn Ladder Company 148 firefighter, at the March 2008 christening ceremonies, according to the U.S. Navy’s account of the event. He joined many of New York’s first responders in bearing witness to the repurposed metal.

As workers in New Orleans were building the USS New York, they coped with devastation in their own city after Hurricane Katrina hit. The ship’s motto, “Strength Forged Through Sacrifice. Never Forget,” served as inspiration as they had to rebuild their own lives from the wreckage left behind by the storm.

Katrina united the cities as sisters in catastrophe. “Families ripped apart,” says Ed Winter, shipyard spokesman, of the similarity. “In New York it was all unexpected. Friends were looking for people who never came home from work.”

There were similar scenes in Williams’ East New Orleans neighborhood. “It hit me a lot just being a part of the USS?New York and tying it in with New Orleans,” Williams says. “It was so heart-touching just to have the opportunity to do what we were doing.

“Even before Katrina, when we found out the ship was being named New York in honor of the victims and the heroes of 9/11, that made it special in itself,” he says. “Then we found out the World Trade Center steel was being donated to be incorporated in its bow, and that made it even more special, because it is considered sacred steel, like a relic.”

The ship, which will be based in Norfolk, Va., was greeted with cheers and tears on arrival in New York.

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