Troiola tours the ‘beloved ship’ of New York
Photo by Gary Schacher, aide to the national commander

Troiola tours the ‘beloved ship’ of New York

During his visit to the American Legion Department of Virginia on Friday, March 3, American Legion National Commander Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola toured the USS New York at Naval Station Norfolk. While eating lunch with a few officers and sailors inside the chief’s mess, the national commander reflected on a special moment he witnessed with the “beloved ship” over 10 years ago.

While serving as American Legion Department of New York commander in 2010, Troiola was on board the USS Iwo Jima as it crossed paths with the USS New York in New York Harbor during Fleet Week. Together, both ships stopped near Ground Zero. “Taps played, all the Marines and sailors were up on the decks saluting, and firefighters sprayed the USS New York with water. Most emotional thing you’d ever see,” Troiola said. “This ship is a beloved ship of New York City; there’s no doubt about that. I come from New York, so I know. I lost a lot of friends in the World Trade Center. So this ship is a symbol; there’s nothing like it.”

The USS New York is a self-defense, amphibious transport ship that carries up to 500 Marines and their equipment. In the ship’s bow is 7.5 tons of steel recovered from Ground Zero. Troiola toured the ship alongside several Department of Virginia leaders that included Commander Rick Oertel, Adjutant Dave Stein, National Executive Committeeman Linden Dixon and National Media & Communications Commission Chairman David Wallace. The Department of Virginia leadership made the tour possible for Troiola, a Navy veteran from New York. Also on the tour was the ship’s Executive Officer Cmdr. Rick Rivas, a 2000 American Legion Virginia Boys State alum.

The Legion contingent entered the ship’s well deck where Marine trucks, boats and tanks are loaded. Hanging above the well deck is the single largest piece of steel recovered from the World Trade Center that remains in its original condition. The steel is engraved with the ship’s commission date (Nov. 7, 2009), motto (Strength Forged Through Sacrifice; Never Forget), and the number of New York firefighters (343), New York police officers (23) and New York port authority personnel (37) lost on 9/11. A plaque on the wall reads that the piece of steel “is a visual reminder to the crew of the sacrifice and bloodshed on Sept. 11th, as well as our purpose as an integral asset of the U.S. Navy.”

“(The ship is) very sentimental,” Rivas said. “Every time you walk on the ship it’s hard, you can never forget. That’s our motto.”

The symbolism of 9/11 is visible throughout the ship as the Legionnaires visited the flight deck, medical and dental area, bridge, sleeping quarters and more. There’s a large plaque that lists the names of everyone who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001; framed uniforms and badges worn by firefighters on that historic day; a subway sign recovered from Chambers Street/World Trade Station; and a bench with the NYPD, NYFD and NYPA badges engraved that was donated by the three entities that sits on “Never Forget” floor tiles.

“It’s unique because no other ship has stuff like this,” Troiola said. “This is the beloved ship of New York City, that’s for sure.”

Troiola had the opportunity to share with officers and sailors during lunch about The American Legion’s Be the One suicide prevention initiative, along with the Legion’s legislative priorities.

“Our number one goal in The American Legion is to prevent veteran and active-duty military suicide,” he said. “We have a program at the national level and post level called Be the One – that’s basically ‘Be the One’ to save a life. We feel that peer-to-peer support, veterans talking to veterans, military talking to military, is the best way for that veteran that has the stigma of not stepping forward to develop a trusting relationship with their peers.”

After Troiola spoke, Commanding Officer of the USS New York Capt. Ben Oakes thanked the national commander for coming aboard his ship.

“I hope our service on this ship and what we do with this ship, and what we’re going to do with this ship, makes you and New Yorkers proud, and your friends that were lost on 9/11. We remember them every day,” said Oakes, who added that a name of a life lost on 9/11 and their story is read daily by the ship’s chaplain. And as someone who comes from a military family, “I look forward to calling my dad on the way home and letting him know the national commander was on my ship.”

Troiola added, “The tour was fantastic; I love this ship. I’ll remember this for a long, long time.”