"We can't stay away from danger," said Christopher's older brother Justin, 21, a Maryland firefighter.
They made it on the ship in time for an afternoon ceremony on the flight deck honoring one of the New York firefighters killed Sept. 11. The Iwo Jima also carried the tattered U.S. flag from the courtyard of the World Trade Center, which was flown not long ago above Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan.
Philip Foote said he viewed Saturday's visit as a "last chance" to see his younger son before the Iwo Jima is sent to duty overseas. "They can't confirm anything, but they're probably going where the action is," Foote said.
For others carrying disposable cameras and tourist maps, the day provided a chance to view close up, or even handle, military gear they had seen only on TV, from portable mortars and antitank weapons to the tables of protective gear that drew the attention of Clancy, the Long Island woman, who was touring the ship with her sister-in-law Gina.
"We've got these for biological attack, or anthrax, even for a radiation incident," said a young Navy officer demonstrating a mask designed to last 30 days in a "contaminated environment."
"Let's get one at Home Depot," Clancy whispered to her sister-in-law.
Fineman reported from Washington and Lieberman from New York.