Senator: USS Somerset should be commissioned in Philadelphia port

By Vicki Rock Daily American

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is asking that the commissioning ceremony for the USS Somerset be held in Philadelphia.

Toomey, R-Pa., wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. In his letter Toomey said that he has received information that the Navy cleared Philadelphia as a potential site.

“As you know, the ship’s name honors the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 whose actions prevented terrorist hijackers from reaching their intended target, forcing the aircraft to crash in Somerset County, Pa., on September 11, 2001,” Toomey wrote in the letter, which was released by his staff Monday. “In the words of (former) Secretary of the Navy Gordon England, ‘The courage and heroism of the people aboard the flight will never be forgotten and USS Somerset will leave a legacy that will never be forgotten by those wishing to do harm to this country.’ It seems only fitting that the vessel’s commissioning ceremony be held at the closest port to Somerset County.”

The USS Somerset is the ninth and newest amphibious transport dock ship in the San Antonio class. It joins the USS New York and the USS Arlington in remembering the heroes of September 11. A ship is commissioned when it is put into active service.

“The Somerset should be commissioned in Pennsylvania, and I have asked Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to bring her to Philadelphia for the occasion,” Toomey said in a written statement. “The ship is named in honor of the courageous passengers whose action prevented the terrorists from killing many more Americans. Our state and our citizens would be privileged to have the ship begin its service to the country in the Port of Philadelphia. I hope Secretary Mabus agrees.”

Patrick White, vice president of the Families of Flight 93, said the group agrees that the commissioning should be held in Pennsylvania.

“The Families continue to believe that commissioning the USS Somerset at the Philadelphia Naval Yard would most appropriately honor the Forty Heroes and the Somerset community,” he said in a written statement. “Located in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as its home state, closest to the homes of so many family members whose loved ones were lost on September 11th, the historic Naval Yard in Philadelphia would serve as the best place to begin the Somerset’s roles defending Liberty from her enemies and being a Friend to all in dire need.” Henry Cook, a member of the Flight 93 Advisory Commission, said he is pleased that an effort is being made to commission the ship in Pennsylvania. He attended the christening ceremony in July in Louisiana.

“It is rare that a county is honored by having a ship named after it,” Cook said. “It is special to do the commissioning in Philadelphia and in Pennsylvania. It puts the ceremony close enough that many of our local people can go to see it. It’s a beautiful ship.”

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk, who has worked to include mementos from Somerset County in the ship, is glad the commissioning is moving forward. He also attended the christening.

“It will be nice to have it in Pennsylvania,” Vatavuk said. “It is a nice tribute for the heroes. It will be close enough for some residents to be able to go.”

The commissioner said he hopes that the Chamber of Commerce or some other group could coordinate a bus trip for the commissioning. The ceremony is to be held sometime this summer or fall.

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