NEW YORK --
Marines and sailors of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 26 returned home Nov. 12, after participating in the commissioning of USS New York, the Navy‘s newest landing platform dock.
Since their arrival in New York Nov. 2, the 260 Marines and sailors have given tours to thousands of visitors each day. From veterans to cheerleaders, all visitors were able to check out Marine Corps vehicles, equipment and weapon systems, all of which are assets that will be aboard the ship that was built around the Navy-Marine Corps team.
“This ship was built with Marines in mind,” said Col. Mark Desens, SPMAGTF-26 commanding officer. The Marines showed off the ship’s improved capabilities and their own gear ranging from aircraft to amphibious vehicles and weapon systems. Not only were Marines on hand to explain the gear, they ensured visitors got hands-on with it as well, giving as many people as possible the firsthand experience of seeing and touching the vehicles and equipment. The Marines and sailors hosted 9/11 victims' families, Wounded Warriors, VIPs, the New York Jets players and cheerleaders, and even a princess of Thailand during the tours.
But the Marines did much more than conduct tours. Each day, Marines of SPMAGTF-26 ventured into New York to conduct community relations events, participate in ceremonies, and cheer on their favorite teams at sports games.
The Marines attended community relations events at the Staten Island Marine Corps League, interacting with the veterans whose large shoes they now fill. They also played with children at a child development center at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. They visited the Brooklyn Veterans Administration hospital, raising the spirits of veterans getting treatment there. More Marines visited the Morgan Stanley Columbia Presbyterian Children's Hospital where they read to children.
Four Marines took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pay respects and show their patriotism by re-enlisting inside the construction site at Ground Zero. Three Marines eligible for promotion Nov. 1 delayed their promotion ceremonies three days in order to receive their new ranks at the site.
Three live shows broadcast from the flight deck of USS New York, and SPMAGTF-26 Marines were there to interact with the show hosts and cheer in the audience. Montel Williams, himself a former Marine, broadcast his radio show from USS New York Nov. 4. Fox and Friends broadcast its television news program Nov. 5. ESPN's Mike and Mike show broadcast their radio and television show Nov. 10. Celebrity chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network's "Dinner: Impossible," cooked for and with the Marines and sailors in the ship's galley Nov. 8.
A few lucky Marines attended the final game of the World Series. Others were invited to the sidelines as the New York Giants battled the San Diego Chargers. Several Marines attended a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman.
The Marines observed the Marine Corps' 234th birthday with no less than four ceremonies, including ones with the NYPD, retired members of FDNY, a birthday observance for SPMAGTF-26 alone, and a formal cake-cutting on the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The Navajo Code Talkers and Purple Heart recipient Cpl. Aaron Mankin were some of the noted speakers at the Intrepid ceremony.
The Marines observed Veterans Day by attending breakfast with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg before marching in the city's 90th annual Veterans Day parade. They also participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the Intrepid museum.
The parade took the Marines down 5th Avenue. Along the way, New Yorkers cheered and showed their respect for the Marines through signs.
Grace Crowley held a sign on the parade route thanking the Marines for her freedom.
“I appreciate everything that you guys do,” she said.