CRANFORD – A Cranford Chamber of Commerce member enjoyed the unusual experience of embarking on a U.S. Navy vessel as a civilian as part of the media party that traveled with the U.S.S. Wasp into New York Harbor during Fleet Week.
Bernie Wagenblast spent nearly 24-hours aboard the Wasp. Traditionally, as a prelude to Fleet Week, the US Navy invites civilians to embark on one of their ships. For Wagenblast, that meant hitching a ride on a Navy MH-53 helicopter from Lower Manhattan to the deck of the Wasp, some 100 miles off the New Jersey coast.
The chopper landed on the deck of the Wasp about 70 minutes after taking off. Once aboard the ship, the visitors were briefed on what was coming up and shown to their rooms in the officers section of the ship.
The USS Wasp is a multipurpose amphibious assault ship designed to transport Marines and their equipment to wherever they have to travel around the world. Like an aircraft carrier, the Wasp has a flight deck, except this one is shorter. In addition to helicopters, the ship also carries Harrier jets and Osprey aircraft, which can take off and land vertically.
Wagenblast said the 2,000-plus Marines and Sailors on the Wasp were excited about visiting New York for Fleet Week. For many, this was their first visit to the city. The night before steaming into the harbor, those aboard the ship were entertained by the USO’s Liberty Bells, who sang several numbers on the hanger deck. That served as a prelude to a viewing of Men in Black 3. Those on the ship were able to watch the film several days before the movie debuted in theaters.
While the Wasp is over 800 feet long, it’s still a tight squeeze when hundreds of men and women are moving about. For those who have never served aboard a Navy vessel, it can be a confusing maze when trying to get from one place to another.
When reveille sounded early the next morning, the ship was already abuzz with activity. This was the day the Wasp, joined by other US Navy, Coast Guard and foreign naval vessels, along with tall ships, was set to sail into New York Harbor. Before land was even visible, Sailors and Marines in dress uniforms lined the deck. As the Wasp approached the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the ship and Fort Hamilton on the Brooklyn shoreline traded an eleven-gun salute. Continuing to steam into the harbor, a variety of Navy aircraft, including the Blue Angels, flew overhead. As the ship passed the World Trade Center site, those aboard came to attention. Along the shoreline thousands of spectators cheered the ship as it passed by.
Early in the afternoon, the Wasp docked along the Hudson River. On the Hanger Deck, Marines and Sailors were just looking forward to enjoying all the city had to offer.
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