Army veteran Joseph Perez had never been to New York City before this week. But he didn't hesitate to make the trip when he was given the opportunity to tour the soon-to-be-commissioned USS New York – partially built with 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center wreckage.
"Knowing where it came from and where the steel came from, this means a lot to me," said Perez, a Nevada resident who left the Army in 2005 after being injured. "I live on the West Coast, but after 9/11, it changed all of our lives. I was a firefighter, and I ended up back in the military again to be where I needed to be. To be on this ship means full circle. Just to be in this town for the first time, to me it's full circle."
About 45 wounded U.S. servicemembers got a private tour of the warship Nov. 5. The event was organized by American Legion Post 1870 in New York City and the New York Police Department, working with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Hope for Warriors Project. Legionnaire John Cardona, a 27-year military veteran and deputy inspector with the NYPD, played a key role in making the tour happen.
"We knew with this event being as high profile as it is, we wanted to do a little more," Cardona said. "We wanted to get as many military personnel, roll out the red carpet and do a little more for them. With the help of the (New York) crew, we were able to make it happen."
The servicemembers got an up-close look at the large number of vehicles the New York can transport, as well as the many small arms and other weapons issued to sailors and Marines assigned to the ship. But it was more than a technical tour.
"This is something I've wanted to do since the towers fell," Perez said. "This has been a delight."
Cardona said the ship also has a special meaning to New York residents.
"It means that after the dust settled, we're still standing," he said. "Hope. Determination. It's sort of a bit of closure for us. It means that this incident did happen, but it turned out good for us. Just seeing the ship come in the harbor was unbelievable."