Meet the crew of the USS New York, a ship that commemorates 9/11

  • 10 Sep. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 10 Sep. 2021 15:55

The USS New York is a ship like no other: part amphibious transport dock that supports US Navy operations around the world, part living museum that commemorates the victims of the 9/11 attacks. It contains dozens of small memorials – from a firefighter’s helmet to a New York City subway sign – and 7.5 tons of steel recovered from the World Trade Center forged into its bow.

The crew of this remarkable vessel are reminded every day of the legacy that they carry on board with them and the solemn commitment, as the ship’s motto says, to “Never Forget”.

Lieutenant Clay Edinger, the chaplain who honours the fallen every day

Photo courtesy of US Navy

Lieutenant Clay Edinger serves as the USS New York’s chaplain, offering spiritual support to the sailors and Marines aboard. A typical day for him involves talking with leaders around the ship and hearing their concerns, as well as finding sailors in their workspaces and checking on them. When the ship is at sea, he also carries on a daily tradition where he commemorates one of the victims of 9/11 during the evening prayer over the ship’s public address system.

“As far as I know, the first chaplain of the USS New York began the tradition,” says Edinger. “We have a book that includes a short biography or obituary of each victim, so we follow it in order. The details I share are those that I hope will give the crew something to reflect on – whether it is the faithfulness of someone who was part of a team, the grace of a mother or father, or, there are some funny notes to remind us that it’s okay to laugh. I try to incorporate some of that into my prayer that follows as well.”

The tradition only takes place when the ship is underway, so they are about a third of the way through the book (the USS New York has been sailing since 2008). The stories of people’s lives – which contain not just their biographical details, but their hobbies and passions and loves – often resonate with the crew and help remind them why they’re serving.

“I’ve had quite a few sailors tell me that something that I shared was meaningful to them personally,” the chaplain says. “I really appreciate having this opportunity to honour the fallen, and as we say, ‘Never Forget’”.

Lieutenant Edinger – or “Chaps” as the crew call him – remembers his own experience on 9/11, when he was in his senior year of college and found out about the attacks between classes.

“I remember stopping in my dorm and hearing someone mention ‘bomb’ and ‘World Trade Center’,” he recalls. “I got on my computer to try to find out what was happening, but all the news sites were experiencing heavy traffic, so I couldn’t find anything out. When we went to one of the common areas to see what was on TV, we were all in disbelief… I remember walking into my Middle Eastern History class later that week and suddenly discussing Middle Eastern Current Events.”

He was already under contract in the US Marine Corps to be commissioned after graduation (originally as a Combat Engineer Officer). But the events of September 11 and the days that followed – and especially the heroic acts of the countless individuals who sacrificed themselves to save others – only reaffirmed his conviction to serve.

“The one that is most meaningful to me is Father Mychal Judge,” says Edinger. “He was a priest and a chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He is listed as the very first casualty of the terrorist attacks. After the first airliner struck, Father Judge rushed to the lobby of the North Tower, praying over those whose bodies lay in the streets as he walked. He was struck down by a flying piece of debris when the South Tower collapsed. We have his picture in our chapel aboard the USS New York.”

Lieutenant Edinger carries on this same spirit of service as he ministers to sailors and Marines in the chapel, or anywhere else on the USS New York – whether he is visiting the night watch on the ship’s bridge and observing the vast empty darkness of the open sea, or spending a (very cold) winter alongside NATO Allies in Norway.

Seaman Gianna Curcio, a New Yorker who was born after 9/11

Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vanessa C. Behrend

Given the USS New York’s distinct history, it comes as no surprise that many New Yorkers have served aboard the ship that bears their state’s name. Among them is Seaman Gianna Curcio, a Staten Islander with a personal connection to the ship’s 9/11 legacy.

“I was not born yet,” says the 18-year-old Curcio, recalling the attacks. “However, my mother was working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when the towers fell on her building, crushing her and resulting in her losing her first set of twins two months later.”

Despite living through this horrible experience, her mother made a full recovery and gave birth to a second set of twins just over a year later – Curcio and her brother.

“It shows me just how strong my mother was,” says Curcio. “Some mothers could give up after losing a child but my mother kept going after losing two. You would think she wouldn't want to go back to the city but she does and she still works there today.”1

Inspired by both her mother and her father – who Curcio describes as “the bravest people I know” – she joined the US Navy shortly after her 18th birthday.

“Serving in the navy means a lot to me,” she says. “It means that I am a part of the one per cent of people who choose to join the military, serve our country and fight for our people.”

Whether she’s standing security watch or conducting maintenance to keep the ship fully operational, Seaman Curcio is proud of the hard work she puts in to support the USS New York’s mission and grateful for her role in carrying on its traditions.

“It makes me feel humble that I am serving on board a ship that bears the state flag and represents a symbol of strength.”

NATO is commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Following the attacks, NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty for the first time in its history, expressing solidarity with the United States and subsequently providing operational support to the United States. Learn more about collective defence and Article 5 following the 9/11 attacks.

  1. This quote originally appeared in a story on the US Navy outreach blog.