NEW YORK (NNS) -- The 16th annual Fleet Week celebration in New York City struggled with intermittent rain, mist, fog and a distinct lack of sunshine, but it didn't dampen the spirits of the Sailors or visitors to the annual maritime festival.
The Fleet Week celebration provides an opportunity for New Yorkers to see and understand a little of the Sailors' and Marines' life while in military service, and at the same time, the event gives the Sailors and Marines a chance to enjoy New York City's hospitality.
And while the poor weather kept ship visitations well below the expected 150,000, the hospitality of the residents of New York City never wavered.
More than 3,500 Sailors and Marines "invaded" the city for the event, and participated in excess of 250 different events ranging from sporting activities, community volunteer projects, Memorial Day ceremonies, media events, military demonstrations, visits to New York institutions and lots and lots of liberty.
Fleet Week kicked-off May 21, with the Parade of Ships. Fourteen ships representing four countries sailed up the Hudson River from noon till 4 p.m. to their moorings at the Manhattan Piers and the Staten Island Stapleton Piers. During the parade, Fort Hamilton fired a traditional 21-gun salute from the Fort's four gun battery to honor HMS Endurance (AGOB 171), a British ice patrol ship; HMCS Charlottetown, a Canadian frigate; and INS Tarangani (AXS 2), the Indian tall ship; as well as a one-gun salute to USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), as the lead ship of the event. All ships paid honor to the site of the World Trade Center by calling for a hand salute of all Sailors topside as the ships passed the site.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg held his official welcome of the fleet May 23. The venue was changed to the U.S. Customs House from Battery Park due to the inclement weather. That didn't dull the ceremony, as nearly 100 Sailors and Marines flanked the mayor; several other city politicians; Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and commander, Atlantic Fleet; and Rear Adm. Joseph A. Walsh, commander, Navy Region Northeast, as Bloomberg signed into law a bill mandating that the POW/MIA (prisoner of war/missing in action) flag fly over all New York City parks within three years.
Memorial Day was also a day of ceremony, as many Sailors and Marines participated in parades in all five boroughs of the city and in a Memorial ceremony at the USS Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, during the most meaningful day of New York's 16th annual Fleet Week. Walsh was the featured speaker for the ceremony, and reminded guests that Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember the more than 1 million Americans who have given their lives in the service of their country.
"These young Americans were not too different from the Sailors and Marines we have been celebrating with this past week," he said. "They understood the risks when they answered the call to arms...They made the ultimate sacrifice for the liberty and freedom of others. This is a sacrifice that we can never forget."
Sacrifice was a common theme May 22-23, as Sailors and Marines gave much of their time off to help feed the hungry, clean up neighborhoods, visit the sick or relate to kids. The ships' crews supported more than 10 community relation projects, and it is hard to tell who got more out of the experiences. But the Sailors still found plenty of time to have fun.
However, many of the Sailors' and Marines' best memories may be from the generosity of New Yorkers and the hospitality of the "Big Apple."
The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department, United Services Organization (USO) of Metropolitan New York, and New York City institutions teamed-up to help ensure the military service members had an enjoyable week.
The New York Yankees and New York Mets together, donated thousands of tickets to the Navy for distribution to the crews of the ships.
Broadway theaters gave hundreds of general admission tickets to the USO who distributed them to the service members.
The USO also arranged various discount offers to local comedy clubs, sightseeing tours and eating and drinking establishments.
But many of the most moving "thanks" may have come out on the street of Manhattan, or the unplanned shows of appreciation. The impromptu applause for the servicemembers as they walked down the street, the unexpected handshakes and thanks from strangers, or the surprise invitations to see the World Trade Center site from construction workers, all made the Sailors feel at home.
"We've had a warm welcome from the city," said Ensign Jerrold Ansman stationed aboard Normandy. "A lot of people have just come up and thanked you for serving. It's nice."
For related news, visit the Commander Navy Region Northeast Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cnrne.