NEW YORK – Flying a huge American flag from its mast, the guided missile cruiser USS Anzio led nearly a dozen Navy ships and Coast Guard craft up New York Harbor on Wednesday to open the city's 19th annual Fleet Week observance. Some 4,000 sailors and Marines were expected to spend time — and money — taking in Gotham's sights and sounds over the next week.
"I want to see as many sights as possible — and ground zero comes first," said Marine Cpl. Bart Kilgo, 24, of Maple Lake, Minn., making his first visit to New York.
Kilgo and Lance Cpl. Jonathan Demi, 21, of Miami, were among dozens of service members mingling with dignitaries aboard the USS Intrepid, the World War II carrier now serving as a museum on the Hudson River. They were chosen for having served recently in Iraq.
"There's something to be said for just walking through Times Square at nighttime or even in daytime if you're in uniform," said Navy Cmdr. Tim Fowler, a staff member at the Office of Naval Research. "Even if you're from a big city, New York has so much to offer."
This year's event was more low-key than usual, with fewer ships and only one foreign entrant, the British navy's ocean survey vessel HMS Scott. Past gatherings have included ships from Britain, Canada, France and other nations.
A civilian spokesman for Fleet Week, Chris Zendan, said there was no particular cutback in the celebration, but the Navy's priorities determine what ships are available for the weeklong port call.
The biggest entry in this year's group is the USS Kearsarge, a 40,500-ton amphibious assault ship that carries a crew of 1,000, a contingent of 1,800 combat-ready Marines and a variety of helicopters and jump-jet attack aircraft.
Besides daily ship tours at Manhattan's Pier 88 and Stapleton pier in Staten Island, the program includes military band concerts, technology displays, military ceremonies and demonstrations involving Marines, Navy SEALs and helicopters. There are 14 scheduled parades in various parts of New York.