Hundreds line up to tour USS Detroit

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — When Navy vet Jed Vier heard that the new USS Detroit would be in Detroit, he knew he had to be there. So he lined up with his mom and dad, who also is a vet, to get a first peek.

Hundreds lined up Wednesday and waited hours to tour the new Navy ship docked on the riverfront outside the Renaissance Center.

“We’re Navy veterans and we wanted to see the ship,” said Vier of Dearborn. “The last time I was stationed was 30 years ago. I wanted to look at all the changes that were made.”

Hundreds lined up Wednesday and waited hours for tours of the Navy’s new littoral combat ship docked on the riverfront outside the Renaissance Center.

Vier, 58, and his parents, Jerry Vier and Ann Vier of Grosse Pointe arrived at 9 a.m. to be among the first couple dozen to board the ship in town for several days for commissioning events.

Jed Vier said he found similarities and differences in the new Freedom-class littoral combat ship and the destroyer on which he was stationed 30 years ago, the USS Koelsch.

“I was the officer of the deck,” he said. “I steered the ship. It was a lot more high tech now. It’s an awesome thing for Detroit.”

USS Detroit: A new breed of ship for U.S. Navy

At a cost of $440 million, the USS Detroit, built by Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, was launched and christened on Oct. 18, 2014, in Marinette Marine Shipyard by Barbara Levin, the ship’s sponsor and wife of retired U.S. Sen. Carl Levin.

After passing numerous tests, the Navy accepted the USS Detroit into service on August 12, 2016. It will be commissioned Saturday during a ticketed event that has reached capacity, according to the USS Detroit Commissioning Committee.

The ship is a new breed of naval vessel, designed to operate with speed and agility as it maneuvers through shallow water. It’s the sixth Navy ship to be named for Detroit, although none have been able to move like this one, according to Gibbs & Cox Inc., the firm that designed the ship.

Charles Singleton, a Marine Corps veteran from Detroit, marveled at the ship’s unique capabilities. The former aircraft mechanic served in the military from 1979 to 1989.

“While I was stationed in the Philippines, I’d seen a lot of ships,” he said. “This is a different age of ships. It’s like the Batman of the sea.”

During their 20-minute tour, the Viers said they were taken through areas including the hangar bay and the bridge. The tour, they said, brought back memories.

“The stairways — you get used to going up and down the stairs,” Jed Vier said. “It looked similar to the ship I was on.”

“Narrow and steep,” Jerry Vier chimed in. The elder Vier, 86, was stationed on the USS Coral Sea in the 1950’s.

Shortly after 1 p.m. the line was so long, some visitors left because there was no guarantee they would be admitted. The USS Detroit Commissioning Committee also warned on its Facebook page shortly after the tour began that the event had already exceeded capacity.

“You are still welcome to come downtown and take photos from the public spots, such as the Riverwalk,” the committee said. “We just don’t want anyone to make the drive, hope for a tour and then turned away on site.”

After spending 10 days along the riverfront, the USS Detroit will head to Windsor next week, marking the first time that a U.S. warship has visited a foreign country as its inaugural international port of call.

The USS Detroit will then travel to its homeport in Mayport, Florida.

Infographic: The latest USS Detroit

The ship brought back memories for Richard Bratke, 52, of Shelby Township. He served as a fire controlman on the USS Charles F. Adams from 1984-93.

“The colors, the smells,” he said. “You never get that fuel smell away from you.”

Bratke joined the tour with his friend, Laurie Parkinson, and his niece, Rebecca Fulesi.

Fulesi, 24, noted the way her uncle ran down the stairs, while others struggled.

“The stairs, they’re called ladders, are pretty vertical,” Bratke said. “Everyone else was having trouble with it. I was up and down. It came right back to me.”

The tour had special meaning for Fulesi of Troy, who hopes to be commissioned in the Navy next fall as an officer.

“This was some inspiration,” she said. She said her favorite part was the bridge.

“They have a lot of the new technology up there,” she said “The one seat had three different computers.”

Parkinson, 51, an Army veteran, said it was nice to uniformed naval members.

“Being former military in the Army I never had a chance to get on the ship,” she said. “I’m glad I did. It was fantastic.”

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