Fred Morocco, like hundreds of other individuals, wore a blue ribbon when he visited Penn’s Landing on Saturday morning.
It clearly identified him as a Somerset County resident.
He and many of his neighbors traveled from their homes to Philadelphia to witness the commissioning of the USS Somerset, a vessel named in honor of the county where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In order to identify themselves – from among the thousands in attendance – they pinned the ribbons to their clothes.
Together, those citizens formed a united community, as they have many times since the dark days following 9/11. In recent years, they embraced the USS Somerset, contributing money, items and in-kind services to the commissioning that officially put the $1.2 billion, 684-foot-long San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock into active duty.
“It seems everybody got behind it,” said Morocco, a U.S. Navy veteran and Somerset Township resident.
“You just can’t explain what it means.”
Linda Eash, a Hooversville resident, expressed similar feelings, saying, “The community was really behind it.”
County citizens raised approximately $50,000 for commissioning-related activities. They donated items for the on-board museum. Others sent prayers and well-wishes to the crew.
“I think, since the very outset, what has really stuck with me is that we have had such a unified community effort,” said Somerset County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, praised that spirit.
“You remember the days after Sept. 11 and it was truly one America,” said Rothfus, whose 12th district includes part of Somerset County.
“That one America is still out there. You have all these partisan debates and everything, but the one America is still there, and, at events like this, it comes through loud and clear.”
The ceremony included speeches from dignitaries, such as U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, and Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, and music, prayers and the order to bring the ship to life.
“It’s amazing,” said Cris Sprock, a Davidsville resident and member of the Somerset County Community Band that performed the previous night at a formal reception.
Jeffrey Eash, who lives in Hooversville, summarized the ceremony by saying, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.