Two days ago (Feb. 21st), my husband and I went to lunch with our daughter-in-law Maura. Since she is not from Philadelphia and was on her way back to California, we decided to treat her to lunch on the river at Penns Landing. The restaurant is called The Moshulu and is a former commercial ship transformed into a lovely restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating (closed for the winter). The indoor decor reminded me of the dining room in the movie The Titanic.
We sat at a window table overlooking the Delaware River. Soon after we started eating, we noticed several men with zoom lens cameras on the dock. Within a few minutes we saw two fire boats spewing water up in the air, which means something big is coming. In another minute or so, a huge gray ship came into view. (See Maura’s window photo above and larger Internet photo below.)
What we learned from Maura’s Smart Phone and flyer we received as we left the Moshulu is that the ship that was coming into Philadelphia is the USS Somerset, docking at Penns Landing to be commissioned on March 1st. It is the ninth San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the fifth ship of the US Navy so-named in commemoration of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. The name honors the passengers and crew of United Flight 93, whose actions prevented terrorist highjackers from reaching their intended target, forcing the airplane to crash new Shanksville, PA, which is in Somerset County.
What I learned when we visited Shanksville in the fall of 2012 is that several of the people aboard the plane had a plan to take the plane back from the highjackers and what was heard on one of the cell phones were the words, “Let’ Roll.” As the huge, gray Somerset turned into Penns Landing, all 684 feet, we could see the back of the ship, well above the area where the name of the ship was painted. On it we read the bold words, “Let’s Roll,” and a large encircled 93. Very powerful message!
Also, the flyer noted that 95% of the airplane’s wreckage was retrieved with the help of a power shovel or “dragline” that at one time had been used in coal stripping (C. PA is coal country), and the equipment with a flag hoisted on top of the power shovel became a symbol of the retrieval effort. In the summer of 2008, the 22 ton steel bucket from the dragline was melted and cast into the bow stem of the ship, a symbol of the strength and determination of our country to recover and rally.
The USS Somerset joins two sister ships, the USS New York and the USS Arlington, also named in commemoration of 9/11. These sister ships have been used in anti-piracy operations and also provided humanitarian assistance and foreign disaster relief operations in Haiti after the earthquake. The Somerset will join her sister ships which incorporate a flight deck for helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft as well as a dock that can launch and recover landing craft and amphibious vehicles. The San Antonio class’ ships have increased vehicle space as well as large cargo areas that make them key elements of 21st century Amphibious Ready Groups, Expeditionary Strike Groups, and Joint Task Forces.
Being at the Moshulu at this particular time was fortuitous for us. Even more weird was that there was only one other table of two women eating lunch nearby. When the ship came into view, we shared with them information from Maura’s search on her phone. One of the women noted that she lost her husband on 9/11; he had worked in the World Trade Center. I felt this must have been a very special moment for her and was glad she was there with us to witness the Somerset docking in a front row seat!
P.S. My friend Coll, who also went to Shanksville, reminded me of an important fact I forgot to post: “It’s so unfortunate that the passengers could not take over the plane from the hijackers. They did “roll” but not in the intended way. The hijackers flipped the plane before it landed so that there was no chance of survival. Hence it made such a cavity in the ground.” I remember the guide saying this and am glad Coll reminded me.
2/24/14 Yesterday’s (Sunday’s) Philadelphia Inquirer had a photo of the back (Aft) of the USS Sommerset showing Let’s Roll and the number 93.