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Fleet Week returns to Florida with USS New York, a ship with 9/11 steel

The amphibious transport dock ship USS New York arrives at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., on Dec. 6, 2013.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — All but scuttled by government budget cuts last spring, Fleet Week will resurface this year, yet humbly: only a single Navy warship will visit.

But that ship, the USS New York, is a virtual vessel of history. Its bow stem is crafted out of 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"A dramatic symbol of America's resilience" is how J.W. Arnold of Broward Navy Days, Fleet Week's main host, describes the USS New York.

The amphibious transport ship, which can deposit a fighting force of Marines, materiel and deadly weaponry on enemy beaches, will call at Port Everglades for a week, from April 28 through May 5. Its approximately 360 sailors and 100 Marines will enjoy liberty, host the public on ship tours and participate in community service projects.

The New York, commissioned in 2009 and stationed in Mayport, near Jacksonville, is bound to its namesake city through the tons of steel resurrected from World Trade Center rubble.

The bow stem bearing the salvaged steel is the foremost point of the ship in the water. It is also critical to the hull integrity of the 684-foot-long, 105-foot-wide ship. The vessel's seal features a phoenix rising from flames and the motto "Never Forget." The ship also bears a New York City subway sign and Jets football team memorabilia.

South Florida, long considered another New York City borough, also feels ties to the ship and the city, Arnold said, reflected by the number of people who have signed up for ship tours.

"They're going very quickly," he said, yet there are still spots available on April 29 and 30, and May 1. "This is really an indepth look inside the ship."

Two Coast Guard cutters, the Bernard Webber, stationed in Miami, and the Dependable, stationed in Cape May, N.J., will also dock at Port Everglades for short visits that week.

Approximately 2,200 people are expected to tour the New York or the cutters.

But the three military ships are a pale reflection of fleet weeks from years past. For 22 years, until 2013, as many as eight big gray warships laden with thousands of liberty-hungry sailors and Marines steamed into port for a week. The ships' personnel, notable in their spiffy whites, descended upon South Florida beaches and bars — and schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

This year will be no different for the sailors, just on a much smaller scale.

"They'll be visiting hospitals and schools and chipping in on some community service projects," Arnold said. "I imagine they'll find time for plenty of fun as well."

This year there will also be no air show, long a high-flying complement to Fleet Week.

Construction of a new runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has eliminated a secondary runway used in the past for performing aircraft. For the air show to take place this year, the airport would have to be shut down for more than an hour each day of the show, something transportation officials won't allow. So the amphibious transport ship will be the sole centerpiece of military celebration this spring.

While budget cuts curtailed fleet visits to the nation's ports last year, the Navy is providing some vessels for public events this year. "They've all been sort of scaled back," Arnold said.

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