Once in a lifetime

By Brian Whipkey Daily American

Sometimes a variety of unique experiences come together to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

For most of Somerset County, one of these opportunities will happen March 1 near Philadelphia.

The USS Somerset will be officially commissioned on this day and put into service for the Navy. The 684-foot-long vessel was named in honor of the heroes of United Flight 93, which crashed [after being hijacked by terrorists, who were attacked by its brave crew and passengers on] September 11, 2001, in Stonycreek Township.

The $1.2 billion war ship will be serviced by a crew of 350 and can carry up to 800 Marines into assault operations. It has a flight deck that can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The Navy is welcoming Somerset County residents to see the ship being commissioned into service. If you don’t belong to the Navy or have close friends and family in the service, this service is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The enormous vessel will feature a variety of Somerset County items, including a tribute flag, steel from the dragline that was close to where Flight 93 crashed, and wood from the recent timbering project for the new Route 219. The ship also has sections named after Somerset County communities. It’s a real tribute.

Some parts of the ship were actually manufactured here in Somerset. Global/SFC Valve of Somerset supplied the valves for this ship and many others in the Navy.

I was fortunate to see the ship while covering its christening service July 28, 2012, in Avondale, La. At that time the shipbuilders turned it over to the Navy to start testing.

It’s one of those things in life you actually have to see to fully appreciate. I urge people to consider going to the commissioning service. It should be interesting seeing the crew take command of the vessel and learning about its intended use in peacekeeping missions as well as in times of war.

The Somerset County Community Band will be playing the night before the service during a private reception for the dignitaries and the crew.

A local committee organized through the Navy League of the United States is raising money to help with some of the expenses incurred during the service.

So far more than 200 local people have signed up for the trip and the organizing committee is hoping at least 100 more will be able to go.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk is one of the committee members. He said the first crew aboard the ship will be called plank owners and will receive a plaque with their name. Part of the money raised will be used to buy 500 of these plaques for these crew members.

If you want a free invitation to attend please email your name and address to Vatavuk’s wife, Janet, at janetvatavuk@gmail.com by Nov. 23. Those who register will receive an official invitation early in 2014.

If you don’t like driving that far, the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce is working on an overnight bus trip for the event.

In addition to seeking donations, the committee will be offering commemorative items such as T-shirts and hats.

Although any size of donation is welcome, your gift of $50 or more will ensure that you are recognized in the commissioning brochure and that you will receive a commemorative USS Somerset commissioning coin.

Bob Kirst, president of Global/SFC Valve in Somerset, has offered to match Somerset County’s gift total, up to $10,000. That means that, if you donate $50, the commissioning committee will receive $100.

The donations can be made online or by sending a check made out to the NLUSPHILA (USS Somerset) to Navy League of the United States, Philadelphia Council, USS Somerset Commissioning Fund, P.O. Box 56198, Philadelphia, PA19130. Please make sure your contribution is listed as coming from Somerset County.

It should be a great day for Somerset County; see what you can do to be involved by attending or making a donation. It will definitely be a day to remember.

(Read more about the USS Somerset in December’s edition of Somerset Magazine.)

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