Nebraskan at helm of ship named to honor 9/11 victims - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:46 pm
Nebraskan at helm of ship named to honor 9/11 victims

NORFOLK, Va. — The U.S. Navy's newest ship named to honor victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks will plow the open seas under a commanding officer born and raised in the grasslands of northwest Nebraska.

Cmdr. Darren Nelson hails from Rushville, Neb., the same town Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called home for a time as a kid.

Nelson is now in charge of the USS Arlington, set to receive its commissioning today at Naval Station Norfolk.

The Arlington is both powerful warship and living memorial, a tribute to those who died when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon nearly 12 years ago.

On the eve of the Arlington officially joining the fleet today, that special role was on the minds of both captain and crew.

“We carry the spirit of those 184 people that died that day,” Nelson said. “We know why we got our name. Every crew member that shows up ... learns and understands that 184 people gave their life for us.”

Nelson has three children, including a daughter who was born on Sept. 11, 1996.

More than 5,000 people are expected to attend today's emotionally charged ceremony, including many of the emergency personnel who first responded to the attack and loved ones of those who perished.

Nelson said pieces from the Pentagon wreckage will be kept on board as the ship goes about its missions. Other reminders of the tragedy can be found as well, such as the stars along certain pathways — one star for each person who died.

The Arlington is one of three Navy ships named to honor the victims of 9/11. Each is named for the counties where the planes crashed.

The USS New York was commissioned in 2009 and already completed its first deployment. The third, to be named for Somerset County, Pa., is under construction. They are amphibious warfare ships, commonly called “gators” in the naval community.

The Arlington will be tasked with transporting sailors, Marines and special forces all over the world and, potentially, landing them on hostile beaches.

The ship can perform missions from humanitarian assistance to anti-piracy operations.

It also has the ability “to stand off somebody's coast and say, 'Don't mess with us,'” as Nelson put it bluntly.

The 24,900-ton ship is 684 feet long and can hold up to 800 Marines and nearly 400 sailors.

Its cavernous belly can be flooded with water to allow direct launches of amphibious assault vehicles packed with heavily armed Marines.

Its flight deck accommodates the plane-helicopter hybrid Osprey, as well as a variety of attack and transport helicopters. Its communications capabilities rival that of an aircraft carrier.

On Friday, crew members said they were well-aware of the ship's somber significance.

Chief Master-at-Arms Cindy Latherow said it's a great honor to serve on a 9/11 ship. She's from Pennsylvania, not far from where United Airlines' Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County.

The commissioning ceremony starts at 11:30 a.m. CDT and can be viewed by clicking here. It will feature a slate of VIPs, with Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, delivering the keynote address.

Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, is the ship's sponsor and, in a Navy tradition, will give the order to “Man our ship and bring her to life!”

Nelson will have plenty of family and friends there for the occasion. This is his first command. Previously he was the executive officer on the USS Gunston Hall, a dock-landing ship.

As a younger man, Nelson dreamed of flying military jets and looked into joining the Air Force, but spots were not readily available.

The movie “Top Gun” had just come out and glamorized hot-shot Navy pilots, so he figured he could fly jets for the Navy. He earned his commission through ROTC at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln but wasn't selected for aviation.

He has no regrets.

“I've had an absolute blast driving ships around for the last 19 years,” Nelson said.

Those back in Rushville are proud to see Nelson taking command of such an important ship. His mother, Joan, says she's been asked about the ceremony when out getting coffee.

Nelson likes to point out that every man, woman and child in Rushville, 890 of them, could fit aboard the Navy's newest ship.

“We might not have room for the cows and horses,” Nelson adds with a chuckle.

His crew is certainly aware of his Nebraska heritage and joked about his passion for the Cornhuskers.

One sailor said there is a rule on board the ship — no trash talking on the Monday following a Nebraska loss.

Tuesday's fine, however.

Nelson told one reporter he might have to fly a Nebraska flag on certain Saturdays.

“I might have to find that and intercept it,” said Latherow, a Penn State supporter.

Contact the writer: 202-630-4823, joe.morton@owh.com, twitter.com/MortonOWH

Contact the writer: Joseph Morton

joe.morton@owh.com    |  

Joe is The World-Herald's Washington, D.C., bureau, covering national political developments that matter most to Midlanders.

Keystone XL pipeline backers blast ‘political expediency’ as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Man, 21, shot in ankle while walking near 30th, W Streets
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs, police say
Dems criticize governor hopeful Beau McCoy's ad in which he strikes a Barack Obama doll
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »