Sept. 2 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump designated Wilmington, N.C., as the country's first American World War II Heritage City, telling a gathered group of veterans that he stood "in awe of your service."
Speaking aboard the decommissioned battleship USS North Carolina, the president, along with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Sen. Them Tillis, R-N.C., and state and local leaders, praised the city's military ship-building history. The U.S. military says the city built 243 warships and had three prisoner of war camps for captured Nazis.
The city's designation as a World War II Heritage City recognizes the contributions of men and women during World War II.
"A lot of cities wanted this. And you got it," Trump said. "We stand in awe of your service.
"In America, we don't tear down the past, we celebrate the heroes," he added in an apparent nod to efforts to take down statues to Confederate soldiers and leaders across the country.
The Natural Resources Management Act of 2019 calls for the secretary of the interior each year to designate at least one U.S. city an "American World War II Heritage City." Wilmington, N.C., is the first. The legislation was pushed by Tillis and Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C.
"Wilmington is more than deserving as the first city to receive this designation, anchored by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company that was created as part of the U.S. government's Emergency Shipbuilding Program and built 243 ships during the five years the company operated," Tillis said in a statement.
Cities are evaluated based on criteria that include its contributions toward securing victory in the European and the Pacific theaters during the war and efforts to preserve World War II history.
Wilmington was the home of the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, where workers built more than 200 military vessels. The battleship North Carolina, commissioned in 1937, took part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operation and earned 15 battle stars.Sign up for our daily Top News Newsletter