The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 28, 2014

Vessel shares a special connection with county

Dave Sutor

PHILADELPHIA — Somerset County and the USS Somerset will be forever linked.

The vessel, which is scheduled to be commissioned today in Philadelphia, is named in honor of the county where United Airlines Flight 93 struck the ground during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after passengers and crew members fought back against al-Qaida hijackers.

Its bow stem includes steel from a dragline from which a United States flag hung near the Stonycreek Township crash site.

There are other tributes, too.

Valencia McClatchey, a county resident, donated a copy of her heartbreaking photo “The End of Serenity,” which depicts a cloud of smoke rising into an otherwise peaceful blue sky minutes after the plane slammed into the earth. Equipment from the Flight 93 National Memorial groundbreaking ceremony, a county map and time capsule are aboard.

Rooms and hallways are named after locations in Somerset County and identified with green-and-white road signs. Global/SFC Valve Corp., a Somerset-based business, built many of LPD-25’s valves.

“There’s been a great connection between Somerset County and the USS Somerset,” said Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk.

There are also contributions from the land itself.

Sugar maple, harvested from alongside U.S. Route 219, will be installed as flooring inside a museum dedicated to Somerset County. Vatavuk and John Frick Jr., a regional manager for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, played important roles in acquiring the wood.

Frick, a woodworker, enlisted the help of people he knew in the industry, including Bernard Lambie, a longtime friend. Lambie contacted Dale Eutsey, who sawed the logs into boards and transported the materials. Holt & Bugbee, a Fayette County company managed by Eric D’Annolfo, kiln dried and milled the hardwood. Rex McQuaide’s company, W.C. McQuaide Inc., transported the flooring to the ship.

All provided their services free of charge.

“It has been awesome,” said Frick. “I’ve had no push-back whatsoever. Everybody has stepped up to the plate to take a swing in the name of community pride and patriotism.”

Frick and Dunbar’s Keith Martin built four shelving units/bookcases, two end tables, a sofa table and a bench. The soft maple was provided by David A. Beckner Lumber Co. with the product cost covered by G. Henry Cook, Somerset Trust Co. CEO and president, and Bob Kirst, president of Global/SFC.

“It’s an honor to do this,” said Frick.

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In another emotional connection, more than 1,000 area residents requested tickets to the event. Citizens, businesses and organizations in the county collected approximately $50,000 for commissioning-related activities leading up to this weekend.

“It’s all the little donations that add up,” said Michael D. Kearney, the USS Somerset Commissioning Committee’s chief of staff.

Residents have annually held a ceremony commemorating the tragedy of Sept. 11 and supported the development of a memorial at the crash site that currently includes the Wall of Names, but will soon expand to feature an education center and other facilities.

At the commissioning, Somerset residents have been asked to wear blue ribbons so they can easily identify each other. The project was undertaken by Janet Vatavuk, wife of John Vatavuk.

“I think it’s a passion that the people of Somerset County and the families have,” said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, whose brother died during the attack.

USS Somerset’s crew includes at least one person from the Laurel Highlands, Quartermaster Matthew Konchan, a Richland Township native.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at