Funds sought for USS Somerset celebration

By Dave Sutor Cumberland Times-News

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — It will require a lot of money to hold a grand celebration in conjunction with the USS Somerset’s commissioning. So, a committee recently started a fundraising drive.

The U.S. Navy will cover costs associated with the formal shipboard ceremony that is scheduled to take place on March 1 at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. But paying for receptions, plaques for crew members and tokens of appreciation for sponsors is the responsibility of the USS Somerset Commissioning Committee. The organization, consisting of representatives from the Navy League of the United States and Somerset County, wants to collect between $325,000 and $500,000 to cover the expenses.

General plans and goals have been set, but as the committee’s chairman, Thomas R. Metzger, said, “It all depends on how much money we raise.” Committee members hope to directly get $50,000 from residents, businesses and organizations within Somerset County.

Bob Kirst, president of Somerset-based Global/SFC Valve Corp., has pledged to match the county’s gift, up to the first $10,000. “It comes from the heart,” said Kirst. “It’s the least we can do.”

Somerset has already been deeply involved in development of the ship that is named in honor of the county where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The bow stem includes steel from a dragline from which an American flag hung near the crash site. Sugar maple trees from along U.S. Route 219 were harvested to be made into flooring. Rooms and hallways will be named after locations in the county and identified with road signs.

Global/SFC constructed many of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock’s valves. Valencia McClatchey donated a copy of her photo, “The End of Serenity,” that depicts a smoke plume rising into a clear blue sky minutes after the crash.

“We’ll have some ownership in the ship itself,” said Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk.

The committee expects a large group of Somerset residents will travel to Philadelphia for the ceremony.

“I think it will be special,” said Vatavuk. “It will show that the county is really interested in this and that the people support what the Navy has done for them here. It’s a tribute. It shows that we have a connection to the people that died out there.”

Anybody interested in attending can contact committee member Janet Vatavuk by Nov. 23 at 467-5137 or for more details. Tickets are free, but require a reservation.

Contributions to the fund drive can be made through the website.

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