USS Somerset commissioned as Flight 93 tribute

Watch report from Action News
March 1, 2014 9:05:43 PM PST
A new U.S. Navy ship named to honor 40 passengers and crew killed when their hijacked United Airlines flight crashed as they fought with terrorists during the Sept. 11 attacks was put into service in Philadelphia Saturday.

The USS Somerset is named for the southwestern Pennsylvania county where Flight 93 crashed. With its 684-foot starboard side serving as the backdrop, the amphibious transport dock warship was formally commissioned in front of more than 5,000 spectators at Penn's Landing.

"What we commemorate is not that war or an attack on America," said Sen. Pat Toomey. "We commemorate the day America began to fight back."

The Somerset is the third ship to be named in honor of 9/11 victims, joining the USS New York and USS Arlington, which honor those killed in the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon during the attacks.

After its crew manned the ship, the Somerset's commanding officer, Capt. Thomas Dearborn, said, "Somerset, let's roll," paying homage to Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer's famous rallying cry. Beamer helped lead the passenger rebellion that led to the plane crashing about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Investigators believe the hijackers planned to target the White House or Capitol.

The Somerset was christened in Avondale, La., at the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in 2012 and delivered to the U.S. Navy in October 2013.

It has been docked in Philadelphia for more than a week and was scheduled to depart Tuesday for its home port in San Diego.

For some of the victims' families in attendance, the ship symbolized a memorial of their loved ones, but didn't ease the pain of losing them.

"I'd rather have him instead of the ship," Rodrick Thornton, 68, of Radcliff, Ky., said of his cousin LeRoy Homer Jr., the first officer of Flight 93.

Carol Heiderich, whose brother Capt. Jason Dahl was the plane's pilot, said the ship is a fitting tribute to the passengers and crew.

"It's such an honor to have our family members remembered in this way," said Heiderich, 59, of Hollister, Calif.

Dave Whelan, a cousin of Flight 93 passenger Richard Guadagno, said the ship embodied the spirit of the country.

"This is us, this is our country," said Whelan, 67, of Jackson, N.J. "This ship and the people on it will be prepared to do whatever they have to do."

"It's showing honor to our family members, to the heroes of Flight 93," said Whelan's wife, Carol. "It shows that we're not forgetting. It's been many years now and I'm hoping that 50 years from now when my grandson goes to Shanksville, they still remember."

Marilyn Johnson's brother, Leroy Homer, Jr., was the co-pilot of the doomed flight, and she never tires of hearing the United States honor his memory.

The Air Force Academy graduate, and life-long pilot, is honored on the USS Somerset.

"I say to you if we can't remember the people who lost their lives for our great nation, there is no future," said Johnson.

This is the third ship to be named for the victims and first responders killed in the 911 attacks. Because of the namesake, it was incredibly important to the families to have the commission here in Pennsylvania.

"I really felt strongly that ship should be commissioned in Pennsylvania, the state that that played such a big role and was the sight of the end of that very heroic battle that was waged in these skies over Pennsylvania, so it was just a great place to do this," said Senator Pat Toomey.

The ship will be used for humanitarian efforts.

Commanding officer Captain Thomas Dearborn addressed his crew.

"From piracy to typhoons to volcanos, we are going to go help them," he said.

And Saturday, new crew members and their families leaving to protect our freedom shared a common bond with those who lost their lives on September 11th.

"It was a very emotional experience. I was great to see all the families of the lost ones here to see the ship bring their family members back to life," said Caleb Klingseis, USS Somerset.

"It's just that we are American, and I am proud to be one," said Mike Klingseis.

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