As his wife looked on, weeping tears of pride, Herb Wolk described the letter-writing campaign he'd waged since 2002 -- after the Navy announced it was naming a warship in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York.
What about Arlington? Wolk, a Howard County resident, wanted to know. He lost his son-in-law at the Pentagon. And what about the heroes on United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.?
Yesterday, the Navy announced that it will name two new warships in honor of the 224 terrorism victims at the Pentagon and in Somerset County, Pa.: the USS Arlington and the USS Somerset.
"We are so pleased and appreciative," said Wolk, 57, a retired Navy civilian employee, standing next to a newly unveiled prototype of the ship. "We are hopeful these ships will keep the memory alive so we'll never forget the sacrifices that were made."
At the naming ceremony yesterday at the Pentagon, Navy Secretary Gordon R. England said the ships would be a "living tribute" to "every hero who died in the Pentagon . . . and on United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after they overpowered the terrorist hijackers who had taken control of their flight."
Arlington Fire Chief James Schwartz -- who, as assistant chief, was the incident commander at the Pentagon -- said that the naming of the new ship was a "tremendous honor" for the county.
"Everybody in Arlington can be very proud that there will be this emblem that has some sense of our community here sailing around the world as part of our Navy," Schwartz said. "It really was exciting."
About 35 family members of Pentagon victims attended the ceremony, along with Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Few Pennsylvania politicians or families were present because the event conflicted with a presidential visit to that state.
Marinella Hemenway, 36, who now lives in Leawood, Kan., cried throughout the ceremony, thinking of her late husband, Naval Electronics Tech. 1st Class Ronald John Hemenway.
"It's very emotional," she said. "My husband was in the Navy, and I guess I have a weak spot for ships. I think he would have been pleased with this."
The $800 million warships are part of a series of amphibious assault vessels being built for the Navy. They will be commissioned in 2009. The enormous ships can hold a landing force of 800 Marines, their helicopters and other equipment. At 684 feet, the ships are so long that, if stood on one end, each vessel would be about 100 feet taller than the Washington Monument.
Around the first anniversary of the terror attacks in 2002, the Navy announced it would name one of the new warships the USS New York in honor of that state's victims. Steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center is to be worked into its bow.
Wolk, 57, a resident of Highland, said that many of the Pentagon families mistakenly believed that they would soon hear of ships being named in honor of their lost loved ones after that initial announcement. Wolk's son-in-law, Lt. j.g. Darin H. Pontell, 26, was a Naval intelligence officer who died at the Pentagon.
But he soon learned that the Navy had no plans to name ships in honor of the other victims.
That's when he started his letter-writing campaign, lobbying members of Congress, local officials and England's office with dozens of appeals. The family finally learned last week that his work had paid off.
England's spokesman, Capt. Kevin Wensing, said that the family's efforts were key to the Navy's decision.
"If no families cared about it, we might have gotten around to it. But the fact is, there is support," Wensing said.
Pontell's wife, Devora Wolk Pontell, an attorney and Howard resident, said that she was pleased that the ship's names were approved but that the Pentagon families will likely continue to work to ensure that their losses aren't overshadowed by New York's.
"I'm always vocal," she said. "Remember the Pentagon. Remember Somerset County. People don't think of it as often as they should."