Remembering the Significance of Fleet Week 2002

  • May 28, 2022
  • Rescue and recovery workers in vests and hard hats cut down the Last Column, at night in May 2002
  • Back view of sailors in white uniforms looking up at Last Column in the Museum

Left: Workers lower the Last Column as U.S. Navy sailors look on, May 28, 2002. Photograph by Joel Meyerowitz, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery. Right: Twenty years later, U.S. Navy sailors pay respects at the Last Column in the Museum during Fleet Week 2022. 

For the United States Navy, Fleet Week 2002 marked the first time since 9/11 that ships were ready to welcome visitors back onboard. In total, 20 ships visited the city that week. As they made their way up the Hudson River, thousands of New Yorkers stood on the shore to welcome them and the sailors waved back in solidarity. Fleet Week 2002 has come to stand as a symbol of New York's resilience. Twenty years later, as throngs of sailors flock to New York for Fleet Week 2022, we're taking a deeper look at its significance. 

In May of 2002, Ground Zero was nearly an empty pit. Workers had spent the previous nine months clearing the more than one million tons of debris from the site. On May 28, they cut the Last Column down.

Detective Lieutenant Commander John Ryan, of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, had worked at the World Trade Center site since the attacks. He recalls the moment when he realized Fleet Week sailors were standing alongside the workers and surrounding the site.

Once we were able to take a step back, after the beam was covered, prepared, and loaded into the truck, we looked up and saw the members of the USS Iwo Jima, in their dress whites, silhouetted against the night sky. It was an amazing thing. It drove home the bond between the responders, everyone who worked in the rescue and recovery operation and the military. At that point, it felt like we were handing the baton off for them to take it from there.”

By Lauren Daily, Director, Government and Community Affairs

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