AVONDALE, La. — The USS Somerset — the last of three Navy ships named for 9/11 attack sites — was christened Saturday in honor of the passengers and crew of the plane that crashed short of terrorists’ intended target after passengers stormed the cockpit.
Instead of hitting a target in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, Pa., killing all 40 passengers and crew members.
“The men and women of Flight 93 … thought they were going to San Francisco to work, to play, to learn; to live their lives in peace while others guarded them,” said Navy Rear Adm. David Lewis. “Instead they found themselves in a war, on the front lines, in the opening battle. It was a new kind of war, one with new rules, maybe no rules at all. They had no preparation, no training, no guidance.
“And they performed superbly.”
Flight 93 was hijacked after taking off from New Jersey. It crashed after passengers and crew, some alerted by cell phone calls from loved ones about the other 9/11 attacks in New York, decided to fight the hijackers. Investigators later determined the hijackers intended to crash it into the White House or Capitol in Washington, D.C., where the House and Senate were in session that morning.
About two dozen relatives of the passengers heard Lewis and other military and shipbuilding officials praise their slain family members at Saturday’s christening at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Avondale, a New Orleans suburb.
The Somerset is one of three amphibious landing docks named after and incorporating steel from the sites where planes taken over by terrorists crashed, killing nearly 3,000 people.
Its bow stem — the first part of the ship to push through the water — was made from 7.5 tons of steel melted down from the bucket of a huge coal-mining crane that stood near the crash site and from which miners hung a large American flag to serve as a landmark and to honor the dead. The USS New York’s bow stem was made with 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center. Steel from the Pentagon will be displayed in a small tribute room in the USS Arlington.
Mary Jo Myers, wife of retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, smashed a ribbon-encased bottle of sparkling wine against a sharp-edged breaker bar mounted on the hull.
The Somerset will have both a military and a humanitarian purpose, bringing supplies, generating power and equipment to disaster areas, Myers said.
The Somerset is the last Navy ship that will be built at Avondale, which is scheduled to close once the ship is delivered. Officials are trying to find a civilian shipbuilding or other industrial partner to keep it open.
“We encourage those who can keep the story of this shipyard alive to heroically give their all to achieving that goal,” White said.
About 5,000 people worked at Avondale when defense giant Northrop Grumman Corp. announced in 2010 that it was spinning off its military shipbuilding division. That spinoff resulted in Huntington Ingalls, based in Newport News, Va.
The Pascagoula shipyard, which is to stay open, is working on two more LPDs and got a Navy contract Friday for a third.
About 2,600 men and women are currently working on the Somerset. Those numbers are “probably stable for the next few months,” with layoffs coming as systems are completed, Irwin F. Edenzon, president of Ingalls Shipbuilding, said after the ceremony.