Newport, R.I., Sept. 11, 2009 – The Naval War College (NWC) held a memorial ceremony on Sept. 11 to honor those lost at the Pentagon in the terrorist attacks eight years ago.
“It is altogether fitting and proper that we continue to pause and pay our respects to the memory of the members of the Naval War College family who answered the call of duty, and gave the last full measure of devotion,” said NWC president, Rear Adm. Phil Wisecup.
Retired Navy Capt. Will Dossel was the guest speaker for the ceremony and recounted the day.
“9:37:25 (a.m.). Looking out my window while talking on the speakerphone, I see a billowing cloud, flame and debris suddenly hurtling across the roofline of the E-ring toward my window,” said Dossel. “Having seen my share of plane crashes and leaping to the earlier events of the day, it was clear in my mind what had just happened. We’d been hit, probably with an airliner just like the World Trade Center.”
Dossel was a deputy director for Strategy and Policy in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations, evacuated his staff and led the post-attack assessment of the Navy Command Center which took the brunt of the hijacked airliner's impact.
He described the effort to identify potential Navy casualties in the Navy Command Center, and after many phone calls, his team identified 29 missing from N3/N5.
“Twenty-nine families who would not have someone coming home that night,” said Dossel. “Word had it that the Army lost even more folks, and then there was New York, and of course, our shipmates in N2.”
The ceremony, attended by faculty, staff, students and Naval Station Newport personnel, paid tribute to the three NWC students and seven alumni who were killed that morning. Members of the DeConto family of Sandwich, Mass., who lost a family member, Capt. Gerald DeConto, were also present.
The victims included a cross section of active-duty and reserve officers from the aviation, submarine, surface warfare and personnel communities. All were assigned to the Pentagon during the attack.
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. All three were serving in the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Department at the Pentagon. Shanower commanded the 28-person unit, and Houtz was the youngest civilian to ever be named as senior day analyst. Panik, a highly-respected briefer, had been with the unit over a year.
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 Maj. Kip Taylor, U.S. Army, of McLean, Va.
The 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. An honor guard placed a wreath at the Patriots Memorial on campus, which consists of a piece of limestone removed from the damaged portion of the Pentagon. Newport’s Navy Choristers sang the national anthem and Navy hymn.
Navy chaplain and NWC student, Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Cathcart, gave the closing prayer. Cathcart was also at the Pentagon at the time of the attack, helped with the evacuation and ministered to the victims.
“Some number of years ago I had the honor of making the acquaintance of a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor,” said Dossel. “A young seaman then stationed on the battleship Nevada, he related his story, his memories. And as he talked about the aching beauty of that Sunday morning, I wondered. I wondered how I would feel and how I would react in a similar situation.”
“I think I now know…and will never forget.”