On September 11, 2001, I was station aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. We were near the end of our six moth deployment, beginning our trek home. The ship just left the Persian Gulf and we were sailing in the North Arabian Sea, heading south.
The plan was for the ship to make a port call in South Africa, the first for a nuclear aircraft carrier, before crossing the Atlantic and returning to our home port in Norfolk, Va. We were even planning our “Crossing the Line” ceremony for when we crossed the equator, a proud tradition in the U.S. Navy.
I was the Assistant Public Affairs Officer, leading a division of seven Sailors in operating the shipboard radio and television stations as well as publishing the daily newspaper for the crew. I was looking forward to getting home. My daughter was turning 16 in October and I was going to make it home just in time for her party.
It was in the middle of the afternoon and I was listening to the morning news from the U.S., live via satellite. That’s when I saw the first tower, smoldering as smoke billowed out. Reports said a plane flew into the tower.
At first, I thought it was a terrible accident, then I watched in horror as a second plane flew into the other tower. I knew then something was wrong.
The first thing I did was to send out an email to all the Chief Petty Officers onboard, telling them to “turn on the news, I think the U.S. Is under attack.” I continued to monitor the news and saw that a plane flew into the Pentagon and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Though you couldn’t actually feel the ship turning around, we all knew what was going to happen. We were going to stay right where we were, waiting for orders on who to retaliate against for this cowardly attack.
Over the next few days, we all watched in horror at the devastation left behind; but I also saw our country coming together and the pride of America grew strong. All around the ship, people were hanging up pictures and cartoons related to the attack. Most of them demonstrated the resolve of the American people to strike back against the terrorists who attacked us.
Everyone on the ship was ready to do our duty. Weapons were readied, aircraft were maintained and the crew was anxious to get going. As much as we wanted to get home, we also wanted to be the ones to lead the first strike.
It was ironic that, on the night of the first wave of air strikes against the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces, the chaplain who led the evening prayer that night was Muslim. I think that demonstrated to everyone that were striking back at enemy forces, not the Islamic religion.
We were eventually relieved by another carrier and started our return home, one month late but it was worth the extended deployment. I am proud to have been a part of that mission and to tell the story of what the brave men and women of the U.S. Navy did that day.
It is something I will never forget.