When the USS New York sailed into New York Harbor early Monday morning, Wayne Collins got choked up watching on CNN.
His son, Dallas, a 2008 Manatee High School graduate, is an E-3 seaman on the 361-member crew.
The bow of the new amphibious assault vessel was built in Avondale, La., with 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the fallen World Trade Center.
Yet Collins, a former Marine, was moved by more than just that.
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It was seeing TV shots of solemn first-responders and families of 9-11 victims as the warship fired a 21-gun salute offshore from Ground Zero.
“I was near tears,” said Collins, 64. “Not just because of my son and not just because of the significance of the ship. But it was the people who lost their lives in the attack and their families. To have them see this ship, I can’t imagine those emotions.”
He knew how Dallas felt, having spoken to his 19-year-old son Sunday as the USS New York neared the end of its four-day journey from Norfolk, Va.
“You can imagine how exciting this is for a 19-year-old kid,” Collins said.
The warship, called “an amphibious transport dock,” is the length of two football fields, can carry 800 Marines and has a flight deck for helicopters and Osprey vertical takeoff aircraft.
Its crest features an image of the Twin Towers behind a rising phoenix and the words, “Never Forget.”
Dallas hasn’t forgotten.
“He’s extremely proud and recognizes the importance of it,” said Collins, a single father. “I raised him the last nine years and I know it made an incredible impact on him. We watched it together. Even then he was more inclined to keep up with what’s going on in the world.”
Dallas was in JROTC at Manatee High and played rugby with the Bradenton Bulldogs, but after graduation pondered what to do with the next stage of his life.
“His heart was in the military and, because of the economy, he knew he wasn’t going anywhere,” Collins said. “So I encouraged him to look at the Navy. A lot of our family has been in the Navy.”
Dallas joined last January, went through basic training and eventually received orders three months ago to report to Louisiana.
“When he saw it was the New York, he was ecstatic,” Collins said. “The odds were slim. A lot of Navy veterans wanted to be on that ship just because of the symbolism. It’s an honor to serve on that ship.”
The USS New York is scheduled to be commissioned in a ceremony Saturday and will remain in the city through Veteran’s Day, then return to Norfolk for crew training and exercises.
Collins will be at the commissioning, a guest of the Navy.
“It’s going to be a heavy event,” he said.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fl. 34206 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a phone number for verification.