New Yorkers can still expect to spot groups of white-uniformed sailors fanning across the city for a few more days as the long-awaited return of Fleet Week wraps up.
The annual celebration of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard has returned after a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 3,000 sailors and marines arrived in the Parade of Ships on May 25th and will depart on Tuesday.
“Fleet week is kind of an opportunity for us to engage with the public. For a chance to show off what we do, because I feel like the public, they only can see what’s on YouTube or something like that or what they see in the news,” said Jack Grabe, 21, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps.
The military ships, including the USS Bataan, known as the Big 5, will be open for public tours. The ship has been in service since the late 90s and was the first ship that arrived during 9/11.
“To see everybody get so interested to see the ship, it’s just a very humbling experience,” Lt. Commander Jacqueline Zimny, the meteorologist and oceanographer aboard the U.S.S. Bataan, said.
On Sunday, sailors said they were flattered by New Yorkers’ hospitality — meals paid for by strangers, free drinks and the flurry of photos and thank you’s.
“There was a gentleman who was stopped at a green light to ask us to take our picture,” said 32-year-old Dustin Sheets, who has served almost 12 years in the Navy.
For some first-time visitors, the city felt over-stimulating at times.
“Everywhere you go, there’s always at least 35 people there,” said sailor Baylor Willis, 22, from Kentucky.
On Sunday, residents hoped to tour an active military ship along the piers but the USS Bataan was closed for public tours.
“These piers here, the piers in the 80s, going down through Chelsea piers have so much history to them,” 37-year-old Harlem resident Hannah Simpson said. “I think it’s really cool to connect to that when I see the service members and it reminds us that there are people out there doing hard things for our country, even when we don’t necessarily see it here at home.”
Other sailors took the opportunity to spend time with their friends and loved ones.
“We talk often about how freedom’s not free. It’s not free when you have a child that served in the military,” said Joni Robinson, 58. She was visiting from South Carolina to see her 31-year-old son, Caleb Robinson.