USS New York brings 9/11 legacy to Fleet Week in Fort Lauderdale

By Brittany Shammas Sun Sentinel

When darkness falls, and it’s nearly time for lights out aboard the USS New York, a voice comes over the loudspeaker. And a prayer for a 9/11 victim echoes throughout the ship.

On this Navy vessel, the 2001 terror attacks are more than just a distant memory.

Built with 7.5 tons of steel from the toppled World Trade Center in its bow, the New York is a living memorial to those killed during 9/11.

Throughout the ship are reminders of that day, from a twisted piece of steel framed in a hallway to a mural in the officers’ mess hall showing the New York City skyline — with the Twin Towers intact and bathed in light.

The spirit of those lost in the attacks is present too.

Prayer cards from their funerals are tucked in nooks and crannies all over the ship, never to be removed. Personal items, including hats, medals and books, stand inside a glass case in a lounge [sic].

“We carry the DNA of 9/11 victims right in the soul of this ship,” Capt. Christopher Brunett said. “It’s part of the spirit that drives us. It gives us resolve to do the things that we need to do, the things that we will do together in December when we deploy.”

Based in Mayport, the 684-foot amphibious transport ship steamed into Port Everglades on Monday morning for Fleet Week. The 320 sailors and 120 Marines on board will enjoy free time at Fort Lauderdale’s beaches, restaurants and bars, and participate in community service events.

Along for the two-day ride from Mayport to Port Everglades were three 9/11 first responders who told the crew about their harrowing experiences and marveled at the USS New York.

“It’s an honor to be on this ship,” said Al Hickey, who has the Twin Towers tattooed on his arm. “It is holy ground.”

Hickey, Frank Sisto and Brian Kenny have all retired from the New York City Police Department and moved to Port St. Lucie, but they are still haunted by the attacks.

The trio bowed their heads Sunday night when they heard ship Chaplain Justin Bernard’s prayer. That night, it was dedicated to father and son firefighters Joseph Angelini Sr. and Joseph Angelini Jr., both killed in the attacks.

It was 9:55 p.m. when Bernard’s voice came over the speakers.

“We lift to you in prayer the entire Angelini family tonight, that even as they face their loss over 13 years later, that you, oh Lord, would be nearest them tonight as you are to the brokenhearted,” he said. “May your peace surround them, may your loving hands of comfort be ever present in their homes, as we pray tonight.”

The chaplain has been going alphabetically down the list of first responders killed in the 9/11 attacks, sharing snippets about the lives of each of them. He started the daily practice as a way to keep the victims on the minds of the sailors and Marines, and he focuses on first responders because the servicemen and women identify most with them.

They’re all people who run toward trouble, instead of away from it.

It’s a special bond, said Command Master Chief Shawn Isbell, who called the 5-year-old ship one of the most important built in its time. He still gets emotional when he shows visitors its many September 11 relics.

“That sense of loss – I still can’t quite come to terms with it,” Isbell said. “I never want that to happen again to our country.”

Isbell and other sailors and Marines on board the New York say the memory of the victims is what gets them up in the morning — even when their many responsibilities allow only a few hours of sleep. And it’s what they remember as they go about their days.

That’s comforting to those who dedicated months of their lives to helping recover and identify the people who were killed.

“It’s important that people never forget what happened,” Sisto said. “If we can remember these people, then they’re never really gone.”

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