NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A Navy ship named in honor of the victims and first responders of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon joined the fleet Saturday, serving as a floating tribute to the people who died that day and an active warship that can transport Marines around the world.
The Navy commissioned the USS Arlington in front of about 5,000 people in its new home port of Naval Station Norfolk. The amphibious transport dock is one of three ships named after 9/11 crash sites.
Two hundred pounds of steel salvaged from the Pentagon's wreckage was forged into a pentagon to be put on a permanent display aboard the ship in a memorial room and smaller pieces of the Pentagon sit on the commanding officer's desk. The ship also has 184 gold stars throughout its passageways in honor of those who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2011.
"We are not a memorial, we are a warship. But we carry the spirit of those 184 people that died that day. We know why we got our name," Cmdr. Darren Nelson, the ship's commanding officer, told reporters the day before the ship was commissioned. "We teach that to the crew. Every crew member that shows up on board this ship learns and understands that 184 people gave their life for us."
Among those attending the pierside ceremony were first responders and family members of those who died the day of the attack. Rosemary Dillard, whose husband, Eddie, was on the plane as it crashed into the Pentagon, said seeing the Arlington join the fleet gave her a sense of pride.
"I know my husband died, or was murdered, because of a tragic thing. And I know this is a warship, but it all meshes together," said Dillard, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "So it's important to me to see that all of the victims of 9/11 are honored and the memory lives on, and that we as Americans continue to know that we need to have things to safeguard our freedom and safety."
For some of the Arlington's crew members, the attack on the Pentagon was also personal.
Seaman Edward Florentino's uncle died in the attack that day. He said he originally wanted to serve on an aircraft carrier or another ship, but once he learned why the Arlington got its name that he was glad the Navy put him on it to be an original crew member, also known as a plank owner.