Signs of the Times

Arlington’s well-known streets and landmarks have taken to the sea.

Three ships in U.S. Navy history have borne the Arlington moniker, but the one that was most recently commissioned in April bears perhaps the most visible ties to the place for which it is named.

The USS Arlington is one of three Navy vessels—along with the USS New York and the USS Somerset—commemorating the sites of the Sept. 11 attacks. Its official crest is bordered by a golden rope with 184 twists, each representing one person who died at the Pentagon.

The vessel, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock that boasts four diesel engines and the ability to carry 699 Marines, also contains a tribute room honoring Arlington’s first responders and a memorial to the 9/11 victims. The display is set to include artifacts from the terrorist attack, including 300 pounds of steel girders from the Pentagon.

Eagle-eyed observers will spot the 2013-2014 Arlington County decal, which features a digitized likeness of the ship overlaid in Stars and Stripes (just like the one on the windshield of your car), on one of the windows on the ship’s bridge.

But it’s in the ship’s way-finding system that Arlingtonians will find the most familiar references to their home, notes Waycroft-Woodlawn resident Jim Pebley, a retired Navy commander and vice chair of the USS Arlington’s commissioning committee.

Take the well deck, a housing area for smaller boats or landing craft. Whereas the starboard passageway near this storage area on the USS New York is dubbed “Broadway,” the equivalent corridor on the USS Arlington is known as “Arlington Boulevard.” The port side is dubbed “Columbia Pike.” And the spot where Marines will assemble? “Pentagon Metro.” The geographic references were selected when the ship’s commissioning officer, Lt. Scott Marsh, put options up for a vote among the crew of 360 sailors.

That’s when Pebley passed along another idea from the commission. He called Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan and asked how much it would cost to produce replica street signs to display on the corresponding parts of the ship.

Within days, three full-size reflective signs, each stretching a foot high and nearly four feet long (complete with black letters), arrived from the county at no cost.

Though the ship will visit hundreds of ports in its lifetime, it will always be anchored in Arlington County geography. Just don’t ask crew members how to get to Clarendon. Most of them hail from other parts of the country.

Categories: Local History
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