By Greg Mitchell, USNH Yokosuka Public Affairs,
Damage Controlman 3rd Class Gabrielle Johnson
YOKOSUKA, Japan – Fifteen years have passed since the terrorist attacks on 9/11. This event forever changed the military landscape in terms of defending the country from a terrorism threat. Sailors and staff members of U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Yokosuka stood in together in front of the facility to commemorate the events with honor and remembrance.
Lead by the master of ceremony, Hospital Corpsman Senior Chief Petty Officer, Stanley Kaneshiro, the event verbally recapped the fateful moments of the day that took place at New York City’s World Trade Center complex, the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. and a field in Shanksville, Pa.
Nineteen men hijacked four fuel-laden U.S. commercial airplanes and crashed them into each tower of New York City’s World Trade Center complex, the Pentagon building in Washington and a field in Shanksville, Pa.
A total of 2,996 deaths were recorded in the 9/11 attacks, surpassing the 1941attack on Pearl Harbor in which 2,403 lives were lost, making it the most deadly foreign attack ever on U.S. soil.
Once the narration was complete, colors ensued, led by Chief Petty Officer Selectee’s Leslie Regala, Rico Bautista and Victoria Cruz. Cruz presented a ceremonial reef which was placed at the base of the command flag pole.
“Being a part of the ceremony was both very honoring and humbling,” said Cruz. “Many lives were lost on 9/11 and to provide a remembrance to those who passed and the families was something that I hold dearly.”
The terrorist group Al-Qaeda coordinated and took credit for the attacks. An earlier declaration of holy war against the United States by Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, was seen as the main motivator for the hijackers. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and the rest originated from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. Some had lived in Europe and were able to assimilate in the USA.
Cruz remembers the day’s events vividly.
“During 9/11 I was stationed on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71),” said Cruz. “I will never forget that morning. We were moving stores onto the ship because we were scheduled to deploy soon. The commanding officer came on over the 1-MC and gave the order to report to our stations. When we all saw the footage the space was silent. We deployed eight days later.”
The commemoration concluded into what was a second segment of the event, which featured a first-hand account experience shared by USNH Yokosuka Director for Public Health, Cmdr. David Burke.
‘It was our unification that was our strength’
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Burke was a student in his final year in New York at Columbia University on the subway heading to his job in the Borough of Manhattan Community College, in the financial district. He recounts taking his routinely long train ride, but on that day, the train stopped two stops short of his destination.
“A message came out announcing a cessation of train service, which was not a common thing in New York,” said Burke. “I noticed an immediate change in the passengers’ demeanor; New Yorkers really don’t chat as strangers; they just don’t talk a lot in those circumstances. I overheard the uncommon murmuring and talking between strangers coming into the subway; that’s when I heard someone say that a plane hit the world trade center.”
Burke continued to proceed to work, thinking that it was probably just a suicide attempt or just really bad piloting. Once he emerged from the subway, he could see all of the smoke. What he learned later was that right before he had reached the surface, the second plane had just hit. Burke proceeded down Greenwich St., where the towers appear in plain view directly down the road. He walked past his school onto Chambers St., noticing that the tempo of the city had changed from disbelief to confusion.
“Taxi drivers were parked everywhere on the street with doors open, blasting their radios to receive any kind of news information,” said Burke. “Everyone was kind of trying to figure out what this was all about. We all kind of knew what had happened – people were talking to each other.”
Burke continued on, getting emotional.
“I witnessed what I thought was debris coming off the buildings, but soon I came to understand that it was actually people jumping,” said Burke. “As the first tower came down, from my vantage point it looked much like debris, but eventually I came to the conclusion that it had collapsed. Probably the hardest part for me to deal with was the realization of seeing all the rescuers running up into the building to their death.”
When the second tower collapsed, it appeared to happen in slow motion. Burke remembers the heavy dust that came rolling towards him in slow motion. As he and other bystanders backed up, he was still not sure what to do. Hordes of people were screaming and crying.
Burke said he had heard reports that the Pentagon, grand central, and Penn station had been bombed. At this point he believed everything that was being said. Even though the phone lines were not functioning properly, He was finally able to get ahold of his mother by phone.
“I remember telling her, I don’t know what to do,” said Burke. “She was so glad to hear I was safe.”
With all public transportation shut down, he began his long journey home, walking 110 blocks to his school campus, boarding a shuttle bus for the remainder of his trip. Even though they had seen everything unfold on television, people who lived in apartment buildings walked out into the street to visually see for themselves what had happened.
In the days after, the city got moving as usual but with a sort of somberness. People wanted to help by donating blood, supplies, and food. Burke went to the Red Cross to volunteer to conduct counseling services; he noticed a deep desire about himself and many others to feel relevant, do something, and make a difference in a situation that left them feel so powerless.
Burke felt more of a sense of empowerment and pride towards joining the Navy because there was a real meaning behind what he was doing. Shortly later, he was commissioned by his father and sister into the United States Navy.
“We rose from our sense of vulnerability and powerlessness,” said Burke. “It’s what united us; it’s what allowed us to coalesce as a nation in a time when there’s a lot of discussion about breaking us up and categorizing us as individuals within our country. I ask you to think about that. It was actually our unification that was our strength. It was really the way we all came together as a country that really embodied our recovery from that day.”
‘Face to face with co-conspirators’
USNH Yokosuka Commanding Officer Captain Rosemary Malone provided closing remarks, sharing her experience, beginning by saying, “9/11 was a day that changed many of our lives.”
During the attacks on September 11, 2001, Malone was stationed in Cecily, Italy. Five years later, she was stationed in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Gitmo), providing mental health to over 450 detainees, five of which happened to be co-conspirators of the attacks.
“Luckily, I did not know at the time who they were or what they had done because it would have made it difficult to complete my mission,” said Malone.
Several years ago, Malone flew back on a military flight with the families of the victims for a trial, and she believes that they are the ones that struggle and continue to struggle with this idea to bring individuals to justice because it has been very slow moving. Malone said that she continues to think about the stories they told her from that flight and considers them to be a brave group of individuals.
At the conclusion of the second portion of the commemoration, master of ceremonies, Hospitalman Chief Petty Officer Adam Redmond said, “In the wake of these attacks, we showed that world that the best of humanity can overcome the worst hate.”