Key West honored the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks with a unique tribute in a special place — nearly 100 feet underwater on the deck of the Vandenberg.

The 522-foot-long World War II ship was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in 2009 off Key West, and has since become a popular dive site and marine habitat.

The Vandenberg is now home to a sculpture made by artist Sandra Priest, whose 9/11 Up project places sculptures made from remnants of the World Trade Center in locations around the country. Another sculpture resides at the Key West Firehouse Museum.

A father-son pair of naval officers and divers, Bond Henry and Cameron Henry, helped orchestrate the Vandenberg tribute that included a flyover by Navy helicopter and the unfurling of a giant American flag that is now secured to the wreck. 

Photographer Scott Belt procured the 30-by-40-foot flag and photographed the ceremony from above and below the surface.

“This thing took on a life of its own. Everyone was eager to help however they could and be a part of this,” said Capt. Joe Weatherby, who spearheaded the sinking of the Vandenberg in 2009 and initially conceived the 20th anniversary tribute. 

Dozens of divers from local dive boats descended on the wreck the morning of Sept. 11 to witness the American flag draping a legendary military ship and visit the new sculptures.

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