On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacked a symbol of America when they slammed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center twin towers. But Saturday's commissioning of the USS New York – with 7.5 tons of steel in its bow from the World Trade Center wreckage – was another symbol of America and its people.
"No matter how many times you attack us, we always come back," Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told the audience of dignitaries, military officials, New York City first responders and families of 9/11 victims gathered for the commissioning ceremony on a Manhattan pier. "America always comes back. That's what this ship represents.
"Eight years ago, this city witnessed the worst atrocities committed against our country. The New York will be a visible testimony to our resilience, to the character of this city, to the strength of this country."
The ship arrived in New York Harbor on Nov. 2 and was toured by thousands during the week. The commissioning ceremony was a somber but almost cathartic experience for those present on the crisp Manhattan day.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former New York senator, said the ship represents the best and worst of the terrorist attacks.
"This ship carries with it searing memories of Sept. 11 – lives cut short, families ripped apart, a nation attacked," she said. "And in that steel, burned but unbroken, lives the spirit we saw on 9/11 and the days that followed, the bravery of the rescuers, the resolve of the survivors, the compassion of this city, the patriotism of this great country."
Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said the ship is a lasting symbol to Americans. "Wherever she sails in the next 40 years ... (the) USS New York will forever conjure the valor, the sacrifice, the heroism and the tenacity of New York," he said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped set the watch for the new warship, officially making it part of the fleet. "Our city has a deep and lasting connection to this ship," he said.
Earlier in the week, Cdr. F. Curtis Jones, commanding officer of the New York and a native New Yorker, said it was an honor to lead the ship and its crew.
"It's extremely humbling above all else," Jones said. "There's so many things about this ship that mean so much to somebody else, and to be associated with this ship with that kind of meaning is extremely humbling.
"There is a lot of emotion that is associated with this ship for all of us – and we feel that every day. The steel that's in the bow of this ship motivates us, literally, every day in what we do. Some of the (crew) joined the Navy for the opportunity to serve on this ship. Ten percent of my crew is from the state and city of New York, and most of those are from the New York City area."
Jones' sentiment was shared by Col. Mark J. Desens, the top-ranking Marine at the commissioning ceremony. "When you get on a ship made from steel from the World Trade Center, your emotions start changing. It's going to go out, and it's going to return the things that were done to us on 9/11. We're going to bring it back to those guys on their soil. And sailing up the Hudson (River) just defies words. When we stopped at the World Trade Center site, and the captain lowered the flag and rendered honors... For me, that was the emotional highlight of my career.
"Like a lot of Marines, I'm not a passionate and emotional guy on the outside. But as I've told all my guys, if this doesn't get you worked up, we need to check your pulse."