NEWPORT, R.I. -- The U.S. Naval War College (NWC) held a memorial ceremony on Sept. 9 to honor those lost in the terrorist attacks ten years ago and those who have sacrificed their lives in service to their country in the years since.
“It has been ten fighting-back years since that day, and while no other attacks have occurred on U.S. shores, many of our friends have seen their countrymen perish at the terrorist’s hand,” said NWC president, Rear Adm. John N. Christenson. “In this nation, increased vigilance, tightened security, and the dedication of men and women in law enforcement, homeland security, the intelligence community, and the military have provided a shield which has thus far been successful in protecting us.”
“Around the globe, we and our allies have fought back,” said Christenson during opening remarks. “Many of our best and brightest have made the ultimate sacrifice for us."
Held at the Patriots Memorial on the NWC campus, the ceremony paid special tribute to the three NWC students and seven alumni who were killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Their names are inscribed on the memorial, which was dedicated in September 2002.
“The focal point (of the memorial) is a broken fragment of limestone from the west façade of the Pentagon, which was carefully conveyed to Newport by a team of Navy Seabees,” said Professor John Jackson, the 9-11 memorial committee chairperson. “This stone, though damaged, is standing upright, signifying the restored and strengthened Pentagon building, and the continued strength of the United States Armed Forces.”
Surrounding the limestone fragment are hand-laid bricks in the shape of a pentagon.
The ceremony was attended by NWC faculty, staff, and students and Naval Station Newport personnel, in addition to nearly 250 midshipman candidates from the Naval Academy Preparatory School. Ten members of the DeConto family of Sandwich, Mass., who lost a family member, Capt. Gerald DeConto, were also present.
Retired Navy Lt. Kevin P. Shaeffer, who was working in the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon during the attack, was guest speaker for the ceremony. The Navy Command Center was destroyed by the hijacked plane’s impact.
"While the memories of my 9/11 experiences are extreme, I believe our collective experiences are relative, as impacting to those who witnessed the events on TV as to those of us who were in its fiery midst," said Shaeffer, a 1994 U.S. Naval Academy graduate. “No matter where we were, our memories of that day cannot, and should not, fade."
The men and women serving in the Navy Command Center watched as the attack on the World Trade Center unfolded.
“In a flash, at 0937, the entire command center exploded in a gigantic fireball, and I felt myself being slammed to the deck by a massive and thunderous shock wave,” Shaeffer said, as he then described being on fire and his struggle to escape the rubble.
He followed glimpses of daylight through the smoke, and his calls for help were answered when Army Sergeant First Class Steve Workman evacuated him. Workman commandeered one of the first ambulances to arrive and accompanied Shaeffer to Walter Reed Army Hospital, where the initial medical evaluation gave him a 50 percent chance of survival.
Shaeffer endured second and third-degree burns over nearly 50 percent of his body, as well as severe chemical injuries to his lungs from inhaling jet fuel at the moment of impact. His long recovery included infections, cardiac arrests, and a pulmonary embolism.
“While my reflections are deeply personal and are formed by the extreme experience I endured, they go beyond that,” said Shaeffer. “They are a continuum of memories marked by service and sacrifice by our nation’s finest.”
Shaeffer described the continuum as a unifying aspect, “the appreciation of the past sacrifices and the bond of respect for those who serve today.”
“Let us remember the nearly 3,000 men, women, and children we lost that fateful day, but also those who have answered the call of duty at home and abroad, and who have willingly laid down their lives since, for us,” said Shaeffer. “We honor each and every one today, with the continuum of our memories that will not fade.”
The Naval War College students and alumni who were remembered by name at the ceremony were assigned to the Pentagon during the attack. They included a cross section of civilian personnel and active-duty and Reserve officers from the aviation, submarine, surface warfare and personnel communities.
The three Washington, D.C.-based students who were actively enrolled at the time of the attack were: Angela Houtz, of LaPlata, Md.; Lt. Jonas Panik, U.S. Navy, of Mingoville, Pa.; and Cmdr. Dan Shanower, U.S. Navy, of Naperville, Ill. The seven alumni were: Capt. Gerald F. DeConto, U.S. Navy, of Sandwich, Mass.; Lt. Cmdr. Robert R. Elseth, U.S. Navy, of Vestal, N.Y.; Capt. Lawrence D. Getzfred, U.S. Navy, of Elgin, Neb.; Cmdr. Patrick J. Murphy, U.S. Navy, of Flossmoor, Ill.; retired Capt. Jack Punches, U.S. Navy, of Clifton, Va.; Cmdr. Robert A. Schlegel, U.S. Navy, of Gray, Maine; and Lt. Col. Kip Taylor, U.S. Army, of McLean, Va.
Newport-area chief petty officer selectees contributed to the ceremony by stating each victim's name while ringing a bell in his or her memory. They also formed an honor guard for a wreath-laying at the Patriots Memorial, accompanied by Taps played by Navy Band Northeast. The Newport Navy Choristers sang the national anthem and Navy hymn as part of this annual remembrance at the Naval War College.