Friday, February 28, 2014

Top 10 Features of the U. S. S. Somerset

1. Pennsylvania and exclusively the Philadelphia riverfront has the honor and privilege of a very special guest. The U. S. S. Somerset will be commissioned on March 1st in a private ceremony.

The SOMERSET was christened on July 28, 2012. On October 18, 2013, it was delivered to the NAVY and her crew. Her homeport will be in San Diego, California the same intended destination State of Flight 93.  That flight was scheduled to arrive in San Fransisco on September 11, 2001. Pennsylvania was chosen as the site of the commission to immortalize those who lost their lives in Somerset, Pennsylvania that day and this Naval ship has been named in their honor.

2. It will serve as a U.S. Marine transport for personnel and equipment. It will be employed in a variety of operations including conventional. expeditionary, special operations, Defense Support to Civil Authorities and foreign humanitarian and disaster relief missions. Capable of carrying 1,200 people including crew, approximately 22 tons of steel from a drag line "power shovel" used near the Somerset crash site was used for the bow of the U. S. S. Somerset.

3. Three ships, New York LPD 21, Arlington LPD 24 and Somerset LPD 25 are named in honor of the victims and heroes of 911, all have been built by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. According to a January 19, 2011 press release, on January 15th, 2011, 22 members of the Families of Flight 93 taking a tour of the facilities in Avondale, Louisiana signed the hull of the LPD 25 with their name and the names of their family members. The ship sits 22 feet in the water. The 25 on the side stands for LPD25.  There is no doubt, this is the room with the view and prominent staff will sit here but the crew below in navigation is just as vital as are every man and woman on board.

4. The crew consists of 380 commissioned Sailors, 31 officers and 349 enlisted, 69 females and 311 males.  According to the brochure handed out, SOMERSET'S crew is the finest this nation can provide. After taking the tour on Wednesday offered to the public, they got my vote. I wish I had gotten the names of the sailors that gave us such an excellent tour but I can only describe them with pride. Our main guy was a native of Southern California and I believe has been with the ship since it was in New Orleans.  He is excited to get back to his roots and to see his family once the ship docks at its next destination in San Diego. He was knowledgeable, professional and had an engaging humor.

5. Our second guide sinks the ship. typically this is not a job description you would think would hold high value on a Naval ship but he has an important job.  He can drop the back end of the ship 10 feet to enable equipment to be loaded in and out of the craft. This happens in the hull of the ship. The flight deck which is an acre in size is above this area. I have them pictured in reverse order.

6.  According to our tour guide, not only does rank guarantee better pay it also gives you better accommodations.  We did pass by the captain's quarters but were not given a glimpse inside.  The majority of enlisted men are in very close quarters.  Here you see one side of a six person area.  It has a new L-shaped design.  A sailor has the luxury of additional head room and can sit up and read at night without crouching down or banging their head on the bunk above. Underneath the bunk is a storage area for personal belongings.  There is not a lot of room for accessories and bling.

7. Speaking of accessories, these containers hold a life raft and when deployed can carry 50 sailors and or marines and also enough food for 25 days. I found that amazing and need to rethink what and how I repack for my next outing. 50 people, 25 days just incredible.

8. Some of the equipment that can be transported along with Marine personnel on board includes an Assault Amphibious Vehicle Personnel Variant, Humvee and Landing Craft Air Cushion and Utility. I must admit I had an eerie feeling when observing these vehicles.  One of the little girls in our group turned to her father and asked, Did anyone die in here? This is a brand new ship but the equipment was not, and that was a harsh reality.  Someone could have or could die as they are put in harms way.

9. The medical facilities are astounding and equipped with most of the machinery and tools found in our hospitals.  There is permanent physician and dentist on staff at all times and on special occasions will carry a larger staff.  The ship's physician spoke to us from the triage area next to one of the operating rooms.  He explained that the triage area is where most of the injuries would be evaluated. There it would determined who would be treated first, who can wait and those that will not make it or who may have already died.  There is a storage location for the deceased as well as a decontamination area if a soldier was exposed to a hazardous chemical. This is operating room 2.

10. Traces of what this ship stands for can be found throughout the boat.  The town of Somerset donated street signs that you come across on the multi levels and twists and turns within the boats corridors.

Commemorative Flight 93 Hero Flag created by Gene Stilp
 of Middle Paxton Township, PA is onboard.

The back of the brochure you are given at the beginning of the tour lists the names in alphabetical order of the


I only wish the entire crew of the U.S.S. Somerset could be listed.
I do not personally know anyone currently serving in the military but that doesn't stop me from acknowledging and thanking all servicemen and women who serve and protect us.
They are also my heroes, as are their families.

I believe tours will be available on March 1st and 2nd after the private commissioning ceremony.  You will need Photo ID to pass through security and don't forget to thank these men and women for their service to our country and for your protection.

The U.S.S. Somerset is on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Google it, there is lots of good stuff out there about it. It is a special opportunity to go down there at Penn's Landing and be welcomed aboard.  Go check it out if you can. It is pretty amazing. If nothing else you will experience the humbleness of these people who put themselves in the line of danger every day for us. The average age of the crew is 28. How many of us have children that age and think, they are just kids?  Fact is, they are all more adult than many of us will ever be and are to be admired.

It was a great tour.
Thank you!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Top 10 People Places and Things Recognizing Black History Month

1. The "Auction Block" is quite a shock when you come across it on one of the main streets in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. You won't trip over it but it certainly leaves you with a visual in your mind when you see it. 

2. The "Slave Mart" in Charleston, South Carolina is now a museum.

3. Sweet grass basket kiosks were set up all along the highway similar to fruit and vegetable stands we are used to in the Northeast but they were very close together.  It was out of season but I became intrigued and wanted to find where to buy one.  The market square in downtown Charleston seemed like an opportune spot and sure enough they had them. The one that I fancied the most was $800.  That was a little out of my league.  Even a souvenir one the size that a Barbie doll could display on her end table was $25. Don't get me wrong they were beautiful and intricately done just a little too rich for my blood and far out of my league. Maybe the stands in season offer better prices with more competition with your neighbor. I was afraid to get a closer picture for fear that would have came with a price as well.  Yikes.


4.  Slave Quarters and later residence of the freed African American employees who stayed on at Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina and a glimpse inside.

Newspaper was used as insulation.


5. This slave harness was on display at the Atwater-Kent Museum in Philadelphia.  I saw this two years ago during the Fourth of July weekend celebration.  I am not sure if it was part of an exhibit or part of their permanent collection. If you can't find them there check the with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. We often associate slavery with the south. This serves as a reminder that Northern States were guilty of atrocity as well.

6.  Also on display was the musket used by John Brown at Harper's Ferry.  I am not sure what the pike is.  In the photograph, it is the smaller dot and the painting of John Brown was done by African American artist David Bustill Bowser.

7. Located at Wister and Germantown Avenue marks a historic place in history for the state of Pennsylvania, the First Protest Against Slavery. It warrants further reading at the website. Click on the link above to read more.

This sign is located just to the bottom of the steps next to the Seaport Museum along Penn's Landing in Philadelphia.  I must have passed through here 20 times and never saw it.  We pass by history every day.  I'm always grateful to stumble upon a great moment in history.  This was one of those times.  I found a link where you can read further about Jane Johnson at The Library Company website.

8. These signs are located in two separate southern states the Freedmen's Cemetery is located in Alexandria, Virginia and the other one is located on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina just before you go over the bridge to Charleston.

9. Sullivan's Island in South Carolina is a beautiful beach town today. It has a significant tie to the past. Not only for its historic Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island has monumental significance to the African American population in the United States. The sign reads


A place where Africans were brought to this country under extreme conditions of human bondage and degradation.  Tens of thousands of captives arrived on Sullivan's Island from the West African shores between 1700 and 1775.  Those that remained in the Charleston community and those who passed through this site account for a significant number of the African-Americans now residing in these United States.  Only through God's blessings, a burning desire for Justice and persistent will to succeed against monumental odds have African- Americans created a place for themselves in America.

A place where...We commemorate this site at the entry of Africans who came and contributed to the greatness of our country.  The Africans who entered through this port have moved on to meet the challenges created by injustices, racial and economic discrimination and withheld opportunities.  Africans and African-Americans through the  sweat of their brow, have distinguished themselves in the Arts, Education, Medicine, Politics, Religion, Law, Athletics, Research, Artisans and Trades, Business, Industry, Economics, Science, Technology and Community and Social Services.

A place where..This memorial rekindles the memory of a dismal time in American history, but it also serves as a reminder of a people who despite injustice and intolerance - past and present, have retained the unique values, strengths and potential that flow from our West African culture which came to this nation through the middle passage.

Sullivan's Island was the entry port for over 40% of the slaves traded to Britain's North American Colonies, making it the largest slave port in North America.  Even though, to my knowledge and my family history tracing, my ancestors were never slave owners but it is still a sobering moment to stand there and read the sign with deep regret of what happened to these people.

The Toni Morrison Society placed a bench at the Ft. Moultrie Visitor's Center, even though we parked very close to this location since it was closed I never saw the bench.  It was a missed opportunity.  You can read more about the bench and additional benches and their placement at the Toni Morrison Society website.

10. Down along the Delaware River just behind the Wilmington Train Station you can find a statue called Unwavering Courage in the Pursuit of Freedom,it is dedicated to Harriet Tubman and Thomas Garrett, two fascinating brave individuals that fought for truth, justice and the freedom for many.

There is an exhibit at the New Castle Courthouse in Delaware that tells the assistant Mr. Garret gave and how he became one of the true heroes of the Underground Railroad. Without giving away too much of the New Castle exhibit, I will just add a picture and bio of Mr. Thomas Garrett found there.  You really need to go and see the entire exhibit to learn and experience some of the heroic deeds performed by some exemplary people. Garret Road in Upper Darby Township is named for the Garret family and the house that Mr. Garret grew up in still stands in Drexel Hill.

Photographs of the exhibit at the New Castle County Court House in New Castle Delaware.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top 10 Southern Birds Sighted

1. Do you ever wonder where the Canadian Geese go when they fly south?  This group plopped down in a field in Maryland.  It just made me wonder what was so appetizing on that plot of ground.

Another group of Canadian Geese was spotted on the way to Ferry Farm just east of Fredericksburg, VA.  It was about 10 degrees colder the next day. What?  We are headed south.

2. You may have to strain your eyes a bit, the flying one is obvious and you can spot one of the black and white gulls is a stand out but there are twenty or more seagulls sitting atop this ice mass just to the right of going over the Bay Bridge in Maryland.  It was cold. It was easier to spot the second gulls at Virginia Beach.

3. The swans across Popes Creek in Virginia gave me the chills bobbing in that water for food but that is what they do and they have to eat.

Here is another flock of swans floating in the Chesapeake Bay that were viewable crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel.

4. This first Plover along the edge of the Popes Creek had no competition for food. However in the beach town of Sullivan's Island, South Carolina there were plover a plenty but have you ever seen them fly? I got lucky.

 Who can fail to acknowledge a bird standing on one leg even though it is a blurred picture? Anyone who has ever done yoga knows this is not an easy feat with the foot.

5. These guinea fowl aka chicken and hens have no food issues, they are members of the farming community at Popes Creek the birthplace of George Washington in Virginia and they are feed.

Chickens at Popes Creek on the farm. Which type?  There are 52 types of chickens in the world according to a Poultry of the World chart found in Wikipedia.  Who knew?

6.  Sure we have sandpipers in the Northeast but I love to watch them as them soar just above the surf faster than a speeding bullet and safer too wherever they fly.  This flock was at Folly Beach in South Carolina.

7-8. Also feeding in Folly I saw this egret and what look like a white ibis to me, still exploring the possibilities.

9. We have them here, I know there is one or two that are permanent residents at Heinz Wildlife Refuge but herons are everywhere in the south. Because they are so cool looking, I will give you a large sampling and a special treat.  Have you ever seen a heron nest?  It was a first for me at Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina.

Folly Beach by the Bay

Wildlife refuges, bird sanctuaries and in this case Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina never disappoint a nature lover even when every thing else is iced in.

The heron, and yes I admit to being unqualified in identifying whether this is a blue heron or a Great Blue Heron, but I can attest to its tenacity has fishing skill. That fish was under the ice and just down the water's edge was another heron keeping close eye on the maneuverings going on.

A few minutes later I turned to observe the two of them engaged in some kind of celebratory dance. I was not sure whether the one had asked the other to dinner or they were glad to see the hawking woman with the camera walking away. Either way it looked like pure jubilation.

This is a heron nest.  I have never seen one before and would not have noticed this one so much if it had not been our driver on the nature trail ride at Magnolia Plantation.  Now I know what to look for. I never think to look or herons in trees only along the water's edge.

I am pretty sure this guy or gal was playing me with the diving board routine because as soon as I got too close it took off.

10. I am a gamer and easily amused elsewhere and I was also tracking this other bird.  I think it was an egret but our nature trail driver said egrets are white herons and I really can't dispute that, maybe they are. So here is the white heron/egret.  It is a beautiful bird.  I took several shots of this magnificent bird as I walked along the river trail.  EGAD!!  It was not until I uploaded these pictures that I noticed who else was in the picture.  It still sends shivers down my spine when I look at these shots.
 It is real.

11. I am very excited about this one because it is a new bird to me and I would have dismissed it as a cormorant had I not stopped at Dismal Swamp a few days later and looked in one of the bird books at the visitors center. I believe this is a Anhinga but you are free to dispute me.  I am holding strong though because of the third picture. It is at a different location but those feathered wings are not consistent to a Cormorant in my book. I am putting it on my list as a Anhinga just don't ask me to pronounce it correctly but I believe the spelling to be correct. The third one was seen at the Magnolia Plantation, the other ones were just off Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.

12. Killdeer? Normally I would say this is a plover but illustrations in the Sibley's Guide to Birds, I am scanning through says spot on Killdeer just by the facial markings. They are bigger than a plover.

13. Ruddy Turnstone was on the rocks on the coastal area near Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. I'm going by its ruddy complexion, speckled head, orange feet and a shout out by beach walkers two years ago in New Jersey when they said, "that's a ruddy turnstile". He looked it up on a bird app. I still like to guess.

 14. I spotted these Wild Turkeys as we were leaving the Francis Marion National Forest, Buck Hall section.  Unfortunately, they spotted me as well as were headed deeper into the woods by the time we turned around.

15. Carolina Wren, Warbler or Sparrow? It lives in South Carolina or was visiting during the ice storm and it was kind enough to sit still while I turned my camera on and adjusted it manually. So, I felt it deserved a spot on my list.

16. I believe these birds may be cormorants.  Regardless of their proper name, they look like

buddies and a possible family reunion of cormorants at Virginia Beach.

17. Pelicans are a popular sight in the south especially along the Outer Banks, I spotted these along the waterway at Francis Marion Natural Forest.

18-24. Different looking ducks, the likes I have never seen before but perhaps I didn't know where to look. Lots of ducks.

25. Not to be confused with but seem to hang in the same neighborhoods as the ducks are the coots and a closer coot.

26. Are there any coots with a red beak? I couldn't find any but on the same page in the book I saw a Common Moorhen, not so common to me but I am going with that.  Here you have a Common Moorhen.

27. The Glossy Ibis was out on a frosty day taking in the sights, getting his zen on just before he went to task to do a little fishing.

28. Peacocks are common but normally you will see them at the zoo.  I don't see them flitting around town near me.  I did try to look up the origin of where peacocks come from and all I got was back in the day rich people had them.  I guess I won't be getting any pet peacocks.  I liked the ones I saw at Magnolia Plantation though.  I thought they had a little edg to them and definitely attitude. Maybe it was my fault, once they started to put on their display, I asked a question of them. Is that the best you got? You can see their final answer.

29. Turkey Vultures are not one of the prettier birds out there but they are abundant.  Look up in the sky and if you think you see a hawk, 9 times out a 10, it is a turkey vulture. They are so abundant I almost forgot to list them but we all know all creatures great and small count.

30. We have them in the North East but they are said to originate in the south.  This cat bird was begging for his picture to be taken and be counted. It was southern pride I guess.

31. I can't be sure because I do not believe I have ever seen one in person but I think this ia a whole flock of cedar waxwings. The yellow coloring and the pointed head are my clues.

32. This little yellow one is somebody I just need a little more research and I will title him or her.

Birdwatching is a fun hobby and if you have a camera it takes the challenge up a notch.  You can get all kinds of fancy equipment to observe or capture a photograph of a bird but it is an unpredictable science. Basically all you have to do is go out looking for birds and they will find you, just be patient and respectful and they will do the same.

The largest living bird is an ostrich. I am on a quest.  Is there still an ostrich farm around here?

Identification: Sibley Guide to Birds (don't blame the book if I am incorrect)
My Bird's Eye
The Great Outdoors
Special thanks to Birds in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and mostly South Carolina the first week in February 2014 during the surprising ice and snow storm.