TWENTY-FOUR TONS OF STEEL
By Vicki Ferstal, Suburban writer, 20 Sep 2003
A relic of one of this nation's greatest tragedies — 24 tons of steel from the World Trade Center - has been transformed into a symbol of this country's military might. This steel was superheated and poured into a casting mold to create parts of the hull and anchor castings of the future U. S. Navy amphibious transport dock ship USS New York - a 684-foot-long vessel to be built at the Northrop Grumman Avondale shipyard in New Orleans.
The transformation took place in the small town of Amite, La., population 2,000, which houses Amite Foundry & Machine Inc., one of the largest steel foundries in the South. “Thanks to the skill and hard work of the Amite Foundry and Machine workers, a piece of our city will travel the world in democracy and freedom,” former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wrote in a letter read at the ceremony.
Joining the various dignitaries at Tuesday's event was Richard Torrens, petty officer second class in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Torrens, who lives in the Bronx, lost a niece when the Twin Towers collapsed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. She died on the cusp of her 28th birthday. Torrens, who works full-time as a New York City sanitation worker, spent time at Ground Zero searching for her remains. “This means a lot to New York,” Torrens said. “To some, it's a closure.”
Foundry operations manager “Junior” Chavers has worked at the Amite site for 38 years, but has never had a job quite like this. “When the material arrived here, it was an experience I can't describe,” he said. “When I laid my hand on it, the hair on my neck stood up.” Chavers was one of the three foundry workers who suited up in silver fire-and heat-resistant suits to guide the huge bucket carrying the molten steel onto the mold. A few other workers manned the enormous gantry crane, draped with an American flag that carried the bucket from the fire pit to the casting mold.
Dotty England, wife of former Navy Defense Secretary Gordon England (now deputy secretary of Homeland Security) had the honor of pulling the lever to pour the molten steel. “For all who will serve on the USS New York and for all who suffered from the attacks of 9-11, let us never forget,” she said.
The audience cheered as Chavers and his crew, enveloped by sparks and smoke, guided the white-hot steel into the casting mold. “Never forget” will be the motto of the USS New York.
The vessel will be able to launch and recover any helicopter in the Marine Corps inventory as well as the MV-22 Osprey, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft. It will carry 361 crew and 699 troops and be used in a variety of expeditionary and special operations, including amphibious and air warfare, command and control, humanitarian relief and noncombatant evacuation operations. “Whenever this ship sails, the spirit and memory of those lost on 9-11 will go with it,” said Hansford T. Johnson, acting Secretary of the Navy.
“In our nation's adversity, the inner strength of our people has been reborn,” said Vice Adm. Philip Balisle, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command.