NEWPORT, R.I. – The United States Naval War College (NWC) held a memorial ceremony on Friday, September 10, to honor those persons lost at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The event specifically honored the three NWC students and seven alumni who died nine years ago.
NWC Professor John Jackson, who served as master of ceremonies during the memorial, remembered that the War College first learned it had lost a fleet seminar student the day after the attack.
“In the days and weeks that followed, we learned of other students, and of College alumni, who also perished in this tragic event,” Jackson said. “As word of these losses circulated within the NWC family, donations of money, material and services quickly began to be received by the Naval War College Foundation. The memorial you see before you, which was dedicated in September 2002, is the end result of their generosity.”
Members of the DeConto family of Sandwich, Mass., who lost a family member during the attacks, attended the service. Raymond DeConto, the ceremony’s guest speaker, reflected on the loss of his brother and NWC honoree, Navy Capt. Gerald DeConto, and the meaning the annual commemoration has for his family and the country.
“Whenever my brother had an assignment overseas there was always some concern about him being in harm’s way,” Raymond DeConto said. “When he was assigned back to the Pentagon in early 2001, the family breathed a collective sigh of relief.”
Capt. DeConto worked as a director of current operations and plans branch in the Navy Command Center. His responsibility was to help respond to national and world events to ensure that the surface fleet was at the proper state of alert and readiness, and to deploy ships when necessary.
His younger brother Ray was at work on the morning of September 11 when the first reports were published that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
“Later in the morning when the report came that the Pentagon had been struck, I remember turning to a coworker and saying that my brother works there,” DeConto said. “I could not then and sometimes still cannot believe that his command was struck.”
He remembers listening to media reports and speaking with family trying to find out if his brother was accounted for at the Pentagon. They learned later that their brother had instructed people who had come to his command area to watch the events unfold on television to leave and return immediately to their duty stations.
“This simple act saved several dozen lives,” DeConto said. “His commanding officer also told us that he performed his duties flawlessly that day, as I’m sure the personnel under his command did as well.”
He also mentioned the significance that the numbers 64 4872 have to the families of the victims of the attacks.
A portion of area 64 at Arlington National Cemetery has been set aside for those who made the supreme sacrifice nine years ago. 4872 is the serial number of Capt. DeConto’s final resting place.
“This series of numbers represents the dedication and the service to our country by hundreds of thousands of our armed service personnel,” DeConto said. “These are the people who have kept our country strong and safe.”
The NWC 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.
Capt. Stephen Senteio, who serves as director of NWC’s Naval Command College, remembered the 184 men and women who worked at the Pentagon or were passengers aboard the plane that became a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the terrorists. He also honored the members of the NWC family who were lost on that day.
“While some people have largely put this incident behind them, and moved on with their lives, it is altogether fitting and proper that we continue to pause in our important academic pursuits to pay our respects to the memory of the members of the Naval War College family that answered the call of duty, and paid the ultimate price for their service,” Senteio said.
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 to place a wreath at the Patriots Memorial.
Newport's Navy Choristers sang the national anthem and Navy hymn. Lt. Cmdr. Teddy Williams, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy, and student at NWC’s College of Naval Command and Staff, delivered the prayer of remembrance and petition.
The War College’s 9/11 Memorial is located at the Patriot’s Memorial near McCarty Little Hall. The memorial includes a shaft of shattered limestone from the west façade of the Pentagon, upon which are inscribed the names of the honorees.
The annual ceremony was open to NWC students, staff and faculty and Naval Station Newport personnel.
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs