By James Brooks, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
Sept. 11, 2012
NEWPORT, R.I. – Eleven students and alumni from the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) who were killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon 11 years ago were remembered during ceremonies at the NWC today.
“It has now been 11 years since that day and while no other terrorist acts of such devastation have occurred in our country, many of our allies have seen their countrymen fall,” said NWC President Rear Adm. John 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 proven successful so far in keeping us all safe.”
Held at the Patriots Memorial on the NWC campus, the ceremony paid special tribute to the three NWC students and eight 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.”
But Tuesday’s ceremony was not just about remembering. For others it was about healing.
NWC Dean of Students Capt. Raymond Keledei was one of the survivors of the Navy command center in the Pentagon where the majority of those on duty were killed. In an emotional speech, Keledei shared his personal emotional struggle following the attack.
“I didn't have much time to reflect upon my lost friends, for as the chaos and confusion cleared over that evening and into the next day it became apparent that I was the senior surviving action officer from the current operations and plans branch on the Navy staff. I was the only one with two years of experience in our office and with the corporate knowledge to help plan the first days and weeks of the Navy’s role in Operation Enduring Freedom and then months later one of the first to help plan the Navy’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Keledei. “I was expected to perform and I did something most in the military know how to do: I let my aviation training kick in and immediately started to compartmentalize. I put my worries, emotions and loss into a box and tightened down that lid so I could focus on the job at hand, even as I attended or participated in nearly 40 funerals or memorial services over the next six months.
But Keledei said he paid a large personal cost in holding back his emotions.
“I minimized the importance of friends and family. I failed to balance my life and in so doing eventually left behind my own family and friends. For years I only shared things with the handful of colleagues who had gone through similar experiences,” he said. “It took me nearly a decade before I faced all the aspects of my loss and now I have been striving to not only reestablish some of those old connections with family and with friends but also do everything I can to ensure that I don't repeat those past mistakes with new friends, colleagues and loved ones.”
For the more than 200 uniformed service members attending the noon ceremony, Keledei urged them to learn from his experiences and celebrate the memories of friends and families killed and stay connected to those still in our lives.
“Don’t let a decade go by as I did, but keep the balance,” he said.
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 eight 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.; retired Capt. John Yamnicky, U.S. Navy, of Waldorf, Md.; Cmdr. Robert A. Schlegel, U.S. Navy, of Gray, Maine; and Lt. Col. Kip Taylor, U.S. Army, of McLean, Va.
Posted by Dan Marciniak