CHICAGO — Brothers Ethan and Trevor Dahl, 7 and 5, respectively, climbed on the USS Hurricane on Wednesday hoping to learn more about one of the naval ships they love to watch on the big screen. They didn't leave disappointed.
The boys stood with wide eyes and big grins when they found out the vessel's machine guns shoot out water bottle-sized bullets and a 500-pound anchor keeps the coastal patrol ship secure. Accompanied by their mother, the duo stood in awe of the radar machines and the inflatable boat used for anti-piracy missions.
"We thought we were going on a tour of the boat as it was driving around the lake, but I still liked it," Ethan, of Inverness, said after stepping off the ship docked at Navy Pier.
The Dahls were just some of the hundreds of people lined up on the pier Wednesday as warship tours opened to the public during Navy Week, a series of events that ends Monday. The celebration also falls around the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the anniversary of the end of World War II, naval officials said.
Military officials said they decided to bring ships to Navy Pier — for the first time since 1999 — so Midwest residents could become reacquainted with sailors and American ships that have been off traveling.
Rear Adm. Gregory Nosal said war and other commitments have kept the vessels away from the Great Lakes for several years. For example, on any given day, about 40 percent of the Navy's 286 ships are deployed worldwide, conducting missions like maritime security or responding to requests for humanitarian aid.
In all, people can tour five warships, including two Canadian vessels, the USS Hurricane and the Navy frigate USS De Wert, he added.
Equipped with chain and machine guns, grenade launchers and missiles, the 331-ton USS Hurricane is a bulky steel ship that fits about 26 people. About 15 people sleep in one large room on racks — bunklike beds — against the wall.
Still, small, homelike touches are evident all around to keep sailors comfortable.
Music by the rock band Oasis quietly played in the tiny galley as an officer cooked chicken tetrazzini. A PlayStation 3 and a handful of video games, used by sailors during their downtime, rested on a nearby table. A black charcoal grill sat idle outside on the deck, but it's often used during seaside picnics.
The sights were a treat for Jay Gabrielson, 21, of Chicago, who stood in line for half an hour to see the coastal ship.
"You see them in pictures and things, but you never get to really physically grasp and see how large (the ships) are," Gabrielson said.
Though John Sullivan, 68, has been on several ships before, he said he wanted to come to support the sailors. Decked in a blue cap that read "USS The Sullivans," Sullivan said his son was in the Navy and his distant relatives died aboard a naval ship that sunk decades ago.
"It's very touching for me," the Chicago resident said. "It's good to see these young people and what they're doing for our country."