The USS New York, built with steel from the rubble of the World Trade Center, was put into service Saturday both as a symbol of healing and strength.
"No matter how many times you attack us, we always come back,'' Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said at the amphibious assault ship's commissioning. "America always comes back. That's what this ship represents.''
He spoke on a Manhattan pier where hundreds of Navy officers and sailors joined first responders and families of Sept. 11 victims for the ceremony.
"I hereby place the USS New York in commission,'' Mabus announced.
And with a long drum roll, the ship's crew was sent on its first watch, obeying the order, as traditionally worded: "Man our ship and bring her to life!''
From atop the vessel, decked in red, white and blue bunting, black smoke rose into the chilly fall morning to signal that the USS New York was powered up. A loud cheer accompanied a flyover by Navy planes.
The 7 1/2 tons of steel debris from ground zero had been melted down to form the bow of the USS New York as "a symbol of our unshakable resolve; this is a city built of steel,'' said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, representing the Obama administration.
Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York before she became the nation's top diplomat.
She noted that many of New York's iconic buildings were forged from steel, from the Statue of Liberty to the Chrysler building.
"But the strongest steel of New York has always been in the spines of its people,'' Clinton said, calling New Yorkers "strivers and seekers, immigrants from every country, speakers of every language.''
The USS New York's new skipper, Cmdr. Curtis Jones, is a native New Yorker.
The $1 billion vessel was built near New Orleans by workers who survived Hurricane Katrina.
"They had to rebuild their lives and their homes at the same time as they built the ship,'' said Irwin F. Edenzon, general manager for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding-Gulf Coast, which built the USS New York.