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March 4, 2014

From tragedy sails triumph | USS Somerset, like region, a diverse vessel

JOHNSTOWN — An unthinkable tragedy that brought our region to its knees 13 years ago, claiming 40 innocent lives, has been reborn into a mission to save thousands.

The USS Somerset, the Navy’s newest $1.2 billion, 684-foot San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, bears more than name recognition with America’s County.

The ship’s bow was fashioned with steel from the rusting hulk of a coal dragline that sat near the crash site of Flight 93 in Shanksville. Road signs of locations within Somerset County hang near rooms and hallways within the ship. Sugar maple trees that were felled for a new southern extension of Route 219 were milled into flooring for an onboard museum and shaped into shelving units/bookcases, end tables, a sofa table and a bench. The ship’s mess is called “Heroes Hall.”

And perhaps the most famous remembrance of Flight 93, Todd Beamer’s rallying cry to passengers of the ill-fated airplane, “Let’s roll,” is sewn into a tablecloth.

SLIDESHOW: Photos from the USS Somerset commissioning

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How ship is expected to save lives

'It's awesome to see' - Somerset arrives in Philadelphia

Special connection between ship and county

Somerset is latest in state's long link to military

The Somerset “represents that ethos of not lying down, of fighting back,” said D. Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, Md., former chairman of the Families of Flight 93 group and son of Donald A. Peterson and Jean Peterson, who died aboard Flight 93.

The USS Somerset also features a state-of-the-art medical facility.

“When tragedies happen around the world, this will be the kind of ship that will go in there and help our friends and allies around the world if a natural disaster occurs,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg.

Added U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey: “There’s no class of ships anywhere in the world that can rival it for the diversity, the range of capabilities that is brings.”

Sort of like the spirit of Somerset County, whose many diverse businesses and individuals came together to make sure the ship was not lacking of momentos.

As Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk aptly said: “This ship with not only its wartime uses, but its humanitarian uses will serve for years to come as a living memorial to those who died in a barren field in Somerset County.”

Sail proudly, USS Somerset.

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