Money needed for USS Somerset commissioning

By Vicki Rock Daily American

The commissioning of a ship is when it is brought to life.

Tom Metzger, president of the Philadelphia Council of the Navy League of the United States, has been to many commissioning ceremonies.

“The commissioning is a naval ceremony that brings a ship into the fleet,” he said in a telephone interview. “It is a long tradition with the Navy. We bring that ship to life and it becomes part of the naval fleet. The crew will be standing on the dock and the order is given, ‘Man your stations,’ and they all run onboard and start everything up. It comes to life.”

The Navy League is supporting the commissioning of the USS Somerset on March 1 at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. The time of the ceremony has not been announced.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said at least $325,000 has to be raised for the ceremony; the Navy doesn’t pay for it. Fundraising events will be planned. At least one Boy Scout troop and one Girl Scout troop are raising money.

“The biggest thing is we have to raise funds,” Metzger said. “It’s a big endeavor to do in a few months. Even small donations add up.”

Any money left over from the commissioning will go into a legacy fund to be used to bring sailors to the Flight 93 National Memorial.

“We will guarantee a sailor from the crew will be at every Flight 93 National Memorial ceremony on September 11,” he said. “No matter where that ship is we will bring someone in.”

Donations may be mailed to the Navy League of the United States-Philadelphia Council, USS Somerset Commissioning Fund, P.O. Box 56198, Philadelphia, PA19130. The Navy League is in the process of setting up a website that will enable people to make donations with credit cards. A copy of an informational flyer appears with the online version of this article.

“We’re excited, this is the last step in the process,” Vatavuk said. “I’ve been working on this since 2008 when we got 25 tons of steel (from a dragline at the Flight 93 site) for the bow stem.”

Vatavuk has also worked to get Somerset County town signs, a county map, county memorabilia and 600 square feet of maple cut down for Route 219 between Meyersdale and Somerset (the Flight 93 Memorial Highway) to be used on the ship.

Ingalls Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, said the Somerset, built by Ingalls, returned from three days of rigorous at-sea testing. The U.S. Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey team gave the ship excellent scores. The ship was flying three brooms from the mast, indicating a “clean sweep” or outstanding rate.

“The shipbuilders dedicated a fourth broom to Somerset’s captain and crew in memory of the 9-11 heroes who lost their lives on Flight 93, who exemplify the ship’s motto, ‘Courage through Adversity,'” according to the company’s newsletter, 75 CenterLine. A copy of the newsletter is attached to the online version of this story.

Holding the commissioning in Philadelphia creates a challenge: The mast is too tall for the ship to pass under the Walt Whitman Bridge.

“The bridge is one of the highest in the area, but the mast is too tall,” Metzger said. “They don’t have to cut it — they will unbolt it and drop it down to one side. The mast holds the radar and they (the crew) don’t use it unless they are out at sea.”

Vatavuk hopes between 200 and 300 people from Somerset County will attend the commissioning ceremony, which is being held on a Saturday. The Berlin Fife and Drum Corps and the Somerset Community Band are asking to participate.

Bob Kirst, president of Global/SFC Valve Corp., Somerset, said the company will take employees and their spouses or significant others to the ceremony because the company built some of the valves on the ship.

“We are thrilled, honored and delighted to be part of it,” he said.

Henry Cook, president and CEO of Somerset Trust Co., said people should enjoy the commissioning.

“It is a unique honor for a county to have a U.S. Navy ship named in honor of it,” he wrote in an email. “Having attended the ship’s christening and in conversations with the Navy League representatives about the commissioning ceremony, I feel confident that anyone who can attend the ceremony will find it very interesting. I am told that before our eyes, the ship will be brought alive. Talking to the captain designate during the 9/11 services, he assured me all Somerset Countians will be allowed to tour this newest member of the U.S. fleet.”

Metzger anticipates close to 10,000 people attending from companies involved in the ship building and the public.

“The last commissioning I attended, the USS Wayne E. Meyer (a guided missile destroyer), had almost 10,000 people attending,” he said. “The USS Somerset is a big ship — it can hold crowds.”

Local people who are planning to attend must notify the committee by Nov. 23. They may contact Janet Vatavuk at or call her at 814-467-5137. Companies may submit names of all their employees who are attending. Bus transportation will be announced later.

There are several motels within walking distance of the commissioning site. The Navy League is negotiating for motel discounts for people attending the ceremony. More information will be announced about the discounts when it becomes available. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are also within walking distance.

In addition to the ceremony, the Navy League will plan various dinners and events for the crew. The crew, which will arrive days ahead of time, will perform community service projects in the area.

Members of the local planning committee are John and Janet Vatavuk, Bob Kirst, Kathy Keiser, John Frick, Henry Cook and Ron Aldom.

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