By Mary Kay Gominger
“Don’t scratch the paint,” was the advice AFRH resident Robert Mattox good-naturedly gave to the prospective commanding officer of the future USS New York (LPD 21). Mattox, a resident of the AFRH since 2006, served aboard the USS New York (BB 34) during World War II and was attending a crew reunion last month in New Orleans, which happened also to be the same time the new ship was being christened.
“The commander laughed and shook my hand,” said Mattox. “Once he found out that I was a former crew member he asked me all kinds of questions about my rate, the ship and my different tours in the Navy. I was glad I got the chance to meet him and hear him speak.”
Mattox left the AFRH on February 28 to travel south to New Orleans, La., to attend the USS New York reunion. He served aboard the USS New York from 1942 to 1945 and was looking forward to visiting with former crewmates and their spouses.
“We had about 150 of our crew on hand at the reunion and then with spouses, it was quite a crowd,” Mattox said.
“I caught up with one of my buddies that I haven’t seen since we walked off the ship in 1945,” he continued. “I picked him right out of the crowd. There were several of my other close buddies there too. It was good to get together again.”
Former New York crew members also attended the christening ceremony, held later during the week, and many plan on attending the commissioning ceremony which will be held in New York City in 2009.
The story behind how an amphibious transport dock ship came to be named after a state is out of the ordinary. In 2002, the Governor of New York made a special request of the Secretary of the Navy that the Navy revive the name USS New York in honor of September 11’s victims and to give it a surface warship involved in the war on terror. State names are traditionally reserved for submarines but Governor Pataki asked for special consideration to honor the heroes who died on September 11, as well as to honor the courage and compassion shown by countless New Yorkers in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
The Navy approved and the ship keel was laid for New York on September 10, 2004, at Northrop Grumman Ships Systems, Avondale Operations, greater New Orleans area, Louisiana.
“Steel salvaged from the World Trade Center was used in the construction of the hull,” Mattox said. “I was glad I had the opportunity to witness and take part in the ceremony.”
On Monday, March 3, before heading back to Washington, Mattox planned a stop by the Gulfport facility, to check on the progress of the construction. Just so happened, that was the day of the ground breaking ceremony, so he witnessed that as well.
“I didn’t know when I stopped by that I would get to see the ground breaking. That was nice to get to see,” he said.
Mattox retired from the Navy with 21 years of service. Of life at the AFRH Mattox said, “there are no watches, the chow is great and nobody bothers you…it doesn’t get any better than that.”