A sailor walks near a display aboard the USS Somerset on Feb. 27 in Philadelphia. The amphibious transport dock, scheduled to be commissioned March 1, is the last of three vessels honoring 9/11 victims and first responders. (Matt Rourke / AP)
PHILADELPHIA — Reminders of Flight 93 are everywhere on the USS Somerset, the Navy’s newest ship.
From a quilt bearing the names of the 40 passengers and crew to the many street signs from southwestern Pennsylvania’s Somerset County, the ship is a floating tribute to those who stormed the cockpit of the hijacked airliner on Sept. 11, 2011, thwarting an attack on Washington, D.C. The plane crashed in a field, killing all aboard.
“Had it not been for their heroic actions, the terrorists would have reached their intended targets, and for sure, countless more lives would’ve been lost and perhaps even changed the outcome of history as we know it,” said Capt. Thomas L. Dearborn, the ship’s commanding officer.
The Somerset will be placed into service on Saturday during a commissioning ceremony in Philadelphia, where it’s been docked for nearly a week. The Navy gave a tour of the ship on Thursday.
Sailors who were teens and younger during the 2001 terror attack said it’s a great honor to serve aboard the diesel-powered, 684-foot Somerset, an amphibious transport dock designed to carry troops and equipment and launch helicopters, tilt-rotor aircraft and assault watercraft.
Petty Officer Patricia Steele, 27, of Oak Harbor, Wash., was in her ninth-grade science class when jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center. She remembers watching the towers fall on TV.
“We sat rigid in our seats, couldn’t move, couldn’t believe what was going on,” she recalled Thursday.
Steele said she’s honored to serve on the Somerset because the Flight 93 passengers were “the first crew that fought back against terrorism. ... They fought back to preserve and protect innocent lives.”
Sailors were getting the Somerset ready Thursday in advance of the commissioning ceremony, swabbing an already spotless upper deck in front of the bridge as a bitter wind howled. The Navy showed off the Somerset’s capabilities, having an Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and a SuperCobra attack helicopter land on the flight deck in the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
Saturday’s ceremony will feature the ship’s sponsor giving the traditional order to “man our ship and bring her to life!” The Somerset will then sail to San Diego, its home port.
It’s the third ship to be named in honor of 9/11 victims and first responders. The others are the USS New York and USS Arlington.
Among other references to Flight 93, a plaque on the Somerset says, “The sailors and Marines of this warship will never forget”; the mess is called “Heroes Hall”; a patch sewn into a tablecloth bears the legend “Let’s roll,” the famous rallying cry of Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer.
D. Hamilton Peterson, of Bethesda, Md., the son of Donald A. Peterson and Jean Peterson, who died aboard Flight 93, plans to attend the commissioning ceremony with his two sons.
The Somerset “represents that ethos of not lying down, of fighting back,” said Peterson, the former chairman of the Families of Flight 93 group.
The vessel was christened in July 2012 at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Avondale, a New Orleans suburb.
Associated Press writer Kevin Begos contributed to this report from Pittsburgh.