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USS Somerset to be Christened Saturday – Begin a Year of Testing

This weekend, the future USS Somerset will be officially christened in New Orleans in one of the last public ceremonies for the ship. It's one of three vessels that honor the sites of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. The USS Somerset will join the USS New York and the USS Arlington. But the one named for the Pennsylvania County arguably has the most unique story to tell. It's not only named after the place – but includes many other connections.

"We have both a physical and emotional tie to the ship because I helped to get 22 tons of steel into the bow stem of the ship. Actually we followed that the whole way along, as a matter of fact my wife and I went to the smelting when it was in Newport News, Virginia, and after they molded it they transported it down to Louisiana to become part of the ship," said Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk.

That steel came from one of the draglines used at the Flight 93 crash site. The valves for lube oil and steam systems for the ship comes from a Somerset County-based company, and in addition, a time capsule featuring several items will be welded onto the vessel.

"I have a patch from the Shanksville Fire Company and the Somerset Fire Company because they were both involved with the cleanup effort," said Vatavuk, "we have a pin for the Nine for Nine Mine Rescue Site, they have a commemorate pin for their ten year anniversary, so we have a lot of items from the county that were included."

The christening will allow the ship to set sail and it will be tested for a year at sea, to make sure that the ship is seaworthy and will be able to be turned over the U.S. Navy. In one year, another ceremony will be held, that one commissioning the ship to the Navy. Vatavuk will be at the ceremony in New Orleans as a guest of the Secretary of the Navy this week, and said he plans to attend the commissioning ceremony as well.

After it's turned over the military, the ship will be used in war and humanitarian relief.