NEW YORK – In the corner of a special room inside the USS Arlington – docked today not far from where Al Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11 – hangs a plaque containing an American flag that was flown at Usama bin Laden’s compound the day he was killed in Pakistan.
It is a powerful symbol of the sacrifices the U.S. Armed Forces have made in the War on Terror, and an everlasting reminder onboard the ship – currently in New York City for Fleet Week – of America’s strength and determination.
“It’s a good thing to experience and be a part of, coming from the attack to today, where we are still standing tall, standing strong and we are going to keep going, no matter what,” Nikita Antoine, a Navy electrician’s mate, told Fox News on the deck of the USS Arlington, docked in Manhattan’s Pier 90.
Nearly seventeen years ago, Antoine saw the attacks “first hand” as an elementary school student in Brooklyn. Now she works onboard one of the Navy’s newer ships, the USS Arlington, a massive amphibious transport dock that is one of three in its class to be built honoring the 2,977 victims of the September 11 attacks.
The ship arrived in New York City for the first time Wednesday, majestically sailing past the new World Trade Center just days ahead of Memorial Day, joining many other Navy and Coast Guard ships in the area for its annual Fleet Week.
“It’s a very somber and powerful reminder of our mission and purpose as members of the U.S. Navy,” Capt. Todd Marzano told Fox News about the ship, named “as a tribute and remembrance to the 184 innocent victims that lost their lives on that day when the aircraft hit the southwest corner of the Pentagon”.
The Arlington, like several of the other ships participating in Fleet Week, is open daily for tours through Memorial Day weekend. Military band performances, flyovers, search and rescue demonstrations and a Navy dive tank in Times Square are amongst the dozens of free events scheduled for the public.
From the moment one steps onboard the Arlington, it is made clear what the ship is set out to accomplish – “to take our Marines to the shore, wherever our Navy needs them or our Marine Corps need them,” says its command master chief, Charles Eakley.
On display in the lower level of the 684-foot long ship are an array of amphibious and landing vehicles that can whisk themselves in and out of the vessel, including a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), a hovercraft that can race through the water at speeds of more than 50 knots.
Looking out from inside the cramped cockpit of the LCAC reveals something much larger -- a two-level parking garage of sorts that can house more than a dozen vehicles inside the USS Arlington, capable of carrying a landing force of up to 800 Marines.
Some of the latest Navy rifles, drones and weaponry is featured on the Arlington’s flight deck, which can launch or land up to four helicopters. The ship, which weighs nearly 25,000 tons, is outfitted with a pair of 30mm guns, missile launchers and ten .50 caliber machine guns for defense.
And high up in the ship’s interior is one of its most hallowed spaces, the 9/11 tribute room.
Marked by the words “We Will Not Forget”, a corridor leading to the room lists the names of each of the victims that died at the Pentagon on 9/11, and 184 stars painted on the floor also pay tribute.
Inside the room is the flag flown at bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, metal, bolts and limestone salvaged from the Pentagon crash site, and a large quilt made by eighth grade students from Arlington schools, comprised of “hero squares” – each with the name of a victim.
“Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time…Goodness, remembrance, and love has no end…” reads a quote written on the bottom of the quilt, taken from former President George W. Bush’s speech three days after the deadliest terror attack in history.
“The tribute room – it took me a year before I actually stepped inside the tribute room, just because I didn’t think I was ready yet, being from New York,” Lt. Carley Tadlock told Fox News. “It was definitely [somber] for myself and to be able to carry on its legacy is a big deal”
Elsewhere along the ship’s passageways are 184 gold stars paying homage to the victims.
“Our crew on board does not forget. Everywhere you walk, you will see pentagons throughout the ship,” Tadlock said, adding that to her, Memorial Day is about “remembering everyone who came before me and trying to make them proud in everything I do every day.”
The ship’s seal also has numerous nods to the Pentagon crash site and its victims. A gold rope around its exterior is twisted 184 times and a bald eagle flies over two 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Benches, placed above a pentagon-shaped shield.
“The red section symbolizes the area of the Pentagon where American Airlines Flight 77, commandeered by terrorists, was targeted and crashed into the building on September 11, 2001,” the Navy says. “The laurel wreath is symbolic of honor and high achievement, and commemorates the heroism of the first responders at the Pentagon.”
Since its commissioning in April 2013, the USS Arlington has participated in military drills and exercises in the Arabian Gulf and the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, and is gearing up for another deployment later this year.
Prior to its launch, the Navy has had two ships named after Arlington, Va. – the first, a transport ship, serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and the second being a light aircraft carrier and communications relay ship, operating in the Vietnam War and later assisting in recovering the space crews from the Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 NASA missions.