The long-anticipated arrival of the new USS Little Rock finally came Monday morning, as the littoral combat ship arrived in the Buffalo River. The ship was greeted by hundreds of civilians and saluted by docents who stood aboard the ship's decommissioned elder counterpart.
Local commissioning committee members waited months for this moment. Paul Marzello, Director of Development and Special Projects at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, likened it to awaiting the birth of a child.
"We've been pacing along the dock as expectant parents might be," he said. "It's 32 years ago now when I was walking the halls of the hospital waiting for my daughter to arrive.
"It's here! We're very excited."
The new USS Little Rock could be looked upon as the baby, compared to the retired original. The Freedom class littoral combat ship, one that can operate in more shallow waters closer to shore, measures a little more than 378 feet in length. The original USS Little Rock, by comparison, is approximately 610 feet long.
Among the members of the public lined up along the water at the Naval and Military Park were Mark and Laurie Kostrzewski, whose son graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2016 and is currently serving with the Marines. While duty kept her son from attending the USS Little Rock's arrival, Mrs. Kostrzewski explained that her son has been aboard a similar littoral combat ship for training exercises.
"He was very impressed with the accuracy, the professionalism of the everybody on that ship," she said. "They really know what they're doing."
Numerous veterans were also watching from along the break wall at the Naval and Military Park. Rob Ormsby, a retired naval combat veteran, served aboard the USS Nassau during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He recalled being visited by President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush for Thanksgiving. And yet, he admitted some envy as he watched the new ship arrive in port.
"I think that's why we all come down here, to kind of get part of our past back," Ormsby said. "We're envious of these young guys that are doing what we used to do, only with a lot more but also a lot less, you know?"
The newer version of the Little Rock was launched in July 2015, but will finally be commissioned in Buffalo on December 16.
Until then, visitors are allowed to arrive at Canalside to see the new Little Rock up close but will be subject to security checks, similar to the screenings conducted at airports.
Among the nearby activities open to the public leading up to the commissioning ceremony is an Army-Navy football game watch party at Buffalo RiverWorks, scheduled for December 9.
"Go Navy! Beat Army!" shouted Marine dad Mark Kostrzewski with a smile.