Westporter steps aboard the USS New York

The new Navy vessel USS New York (LPD 21), whose bow was built with 7-and-a-half tons of steel from the World Trade Center site, sailed into New York Harbor and up the Hudson River Monday morning in advance of a commissioning ceremony this Saturday.

Before the $1 billion ship came to rest at Pier 88, it had stopped briefly in the area of the Sept. 11 attacks that brought down the Twin Towers for a 21-gun salute.

Members of the New York Fire Department (NYFD), New York Police Department (NYPD), Port Authority and Coast Guard greeted the USS New York from sea (via boats) and from land. Emergency responders in Queens flashed their lights as the ship drew closer to Manhattan. Police, fire and others also greeted the ship as it made its way up the shoreline of Manhattan.

Westporter Tim Dolman, secretary of the New York Yacht Club, was on-board as one of 80-plus "Distinguished Visitors," as the Navy refers to them. A Vietnam veteran, Dolman was pleased to see the ship and its crew get the welcoming it got. He and thousands of other Vietnam veterans were treated much differently upon their returns home from the war.

"To see the ship and the military welcomed with such open arms is terrific," Dolman said, adding, "While this ship carries a piece of the World Trade Center, more importantly, it carries the hearts of many New Yorkers that were there that day. Hopefully she'll never be used in war but she's there if needed."

Dolman was picked up by military helicopters on Sunday morning at the South Street Seaport heliport and transported to the ship, which at that time was 10 miles out from the New York Harbor.

All of the visitors, according to the Navy's Web site, were provided a "Navy and Marine Corps 101" brief, lunch and interaction with the ship's crew, received a "Green" tour, which included a hands-on tour of the cargo and well deck spaces, which housed everything from helicopters to a tank to two hovercrafts. The sailors on board led the guests on a "Blue" tour, which covered the Navy's newest innovations in crew living spaces, messing accommodations and the ship's bridge. Later, the distinguished visitors dined with crew members, visited the ship's store and capped off Sunday evening with a social mixer with the ship's crew.

Dolman said the USS New York is the first ship in its class able to carry two hovercrafts from its well deck.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg was a part of the festivities. Dolan said Bloomberg interacted with the crew, watched part of the Yankees-Phillies game and handed out hats with the logos of the NYPD, NYFD and the New York Yankees.

Dolman, who has been involved with the New York Yacht Club for 30 years, loved the ship -- "the operations of the ship" and all the "nice toys on board" -- but said what he loved most was interacting with the men and women serving this country.

"It was very moving. They're great kids. Great officers," said Dolman. "And they were so excited to be a part of this. Many of them had joined [the service] around Sept. 11. No matter where they came from, it was very special."

Dolman said partially building the ship with steel from Ground Zero is "great symbolism," adding that the ship will be involved in humanitarian efforts in addition to possibly being used for battle.

"It tries to keep the peace before you get into war," said Dolman.

During the 21-gun salute, the American flag was lowered to half-staff. Families of Sept. 11 victims were lined up by the boat basin near the World Trade Center site. Firemen, police and every other type of emergency responder were visible everywhere you looked.

"All the services that had given so much on that day, it was very emotional for them too," Dolman said.

Though it was a foggy, rainy and cold day, Dolman said that as the ship came to a stop for the 21-gun salute, the sun came out for about two to three minutes.

Dolman served in the Army and was a first lieutenant when he was honorably discharged. He was part of the transportation corps that dealt with ships, tugs, swiftboats and other vessels that entered Cam Rahn Bay.

Whether Army, Navy or a Marine, all military personnel share a bond and Dolman felt that bond while aboard the USS New York. He truly enjoyed his Sunday to Monday experience.

"It was a wonderful privilege and I felt honored to have gone and been a part of it," he said.

The ship went as far as the George Washington Bridge on Monday, then turned around and docked at Pier 88, near the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

There will be a Captain's Reception at the New York Yacht Club on Friday and the official commissioning ceremony will take Saturday.