Dallas Collins and Ryan Abbott were being treated like royalty around Manhattan.
Like New York Yankees almost.
“Everyone is welcoming us with open arms,” Collins, 19, said amidst the noise of Times Square. “It’s nothing like I imagined. It’s more than that.”
“People are comping us meals, giving us free stuff. I can’t carry everything. It’s insane,” said Abbott, 24, from a busy midtown restaurant.
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They’re Bradenton kids aboard the USS New York, the new Navy warship visiting its namesake city as it awaits today’s commissioning.
It will be an emotional ceremony, given that 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the 9/11 wreckage of the World Trade Center are part of the $1 billion warship’s bow.
The symbolism hits home for the pair, especially Collins.
“We’re the city’s ship. It’s an honor,” said the E-3 seaman and 2008 Manatee High School graduate, who enlisted last January. “I take pride in this, because every day I put on my uniform I’m living my dream, serving my country. Serving on the New York is icing on the cake.”
His maternal grandfather served on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and three other relatives were in the Navy, too.
“My father has passed away,” said Lynn Bondanza, Collins’s mother. “But I can tell you I hear from Dallas continually how proud his grandfather would be of him ... serving in our Navy.”
Abbott, a petty officer, was one of many Navy personnel who requested duty aboard the New York, an amphibious assault vehicle that can transport up to 800 Marines.
“I was headed to another destroyer, but I had to get on this ship because of the history behind it,” said the seven-year Navy veteran, who was born in Bradenton but eventually moved to Daytona Beach. “It’s a great feeling.”
Abbott had a hand in the warship’s historic arrival Monday. He was at the helm, steering it into New York harbor.
“I had to pay attention to what I was I doing, but when we stopped by Ground Zero to give the 21-gun salute, I got chills,” he said.
The goose bumps are sure to return during today’s ceremony.
Both sailors will have family on hand to share in the moment.
“This whole thing is truly a blessing,” Collins 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.