ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) gathered on the mess decks Sept. 11, 2018 in hushed tribute to honor and remember the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, Arlington, Virginia, and Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.
Throughout the day, Sailors had the opportunity to participate in a “Going the Distance for 9/11” challenge where volunteers ran, rowed or biked as far as they could go in 9 minutes and 11 seconds. They were free to go as many times as they pleased, logging the mileage collectively. Ultimately, Bulkeley yielded 101 miles of sweat and energy dedicated to the cause.
Sailors selected for the rank of chief petty officer organized a remembrance observance in which a moment of silence followed the formal ceremony.
“As the old saying goes, ‘no one is ever truly dead until their name is spoken no more,’” said Cmdr. Luis Angel Gonzalez, Bulkeley’s executive officer. “I think that was fantastic. The chief selects, they took the time today to dedicate not only a moment of silence, but to read aloud all the names of those who fell that we in uniform, particularly our uniform, during the 9-11 attacks. Every year, it gives you the opportunity to step back and remind, reflect yourself because it’s easy to get complacent - to take for granted what we do.”
Gonzalez, a New Yorker who hails from Brooklyn, was a freshly commissioned officer and on his first deployment overseas when the attack occurred.
“I was on duty the morning of 11 September in Plymouth, England in harbor when the tragedy struck the United States,” said Gonzalez. “And I remember, pre-Facebook, pre-smartphones, I distinctly remember the confusion surrounding it. How the crew was – at one time galvanized towards action, but shocked that something like this happened.”
Cmdr. John Lucas, commanding officer of Bulkeley, another brand-new officer, had been recently promoted as an Ensign, after achieving the rank of Radioman 2nd Class before being selected to attend Officer Candidate School. He was stationed in Norfolk and can recall his own experience as he drove to work Sept. 12, 2001.
“I had the radio on,” said Lucas. “I was listening to the commentary about what had gone down, because we were still collecting the information about what had really happened. And let me tell you how it went down for me. In my Jeep - I was in a Jeep Grand Cherokee – green. And I broke down. I broke down because I felt like I had let someone down. And I was mad. But I broke down like a warrior does and I cried. And if you cry today, good on you, warriors. It’s alright to cry. Let it go. Let it go, let it fuel you.”
In truth, life as Americans knew it changed after the events that launched the Global War on Terrorism. Gonzales reflects upon the magnitude to which the nation was altered following the 9/11 attacks.
“That changed the way we perceive ourselves and we perceive the world,” said Gonzales. “It changed American society. New York City is a very dynamic, culturally diverse area. I mean, I grew up in a neighborhood that was very much immigrant-centric – a lot of Latinos. And there would be banners flying everywhere - Dominican flags, Puerto Rican flags, Mexican flags. I remember when I came back after my first deployment, after September 11th, they were all replaced by American flags. It shows you the bonding unity that a tragedy had, and its amazing to see 17 years later, some of its still there, but how quickly we might have forgotten the sacrifices made, and how powerful we are. We are American above all else.”
Lucas closed by reading a poem written by Corrine Jacobs, an 8th grade student at the time of the attacks. Before leaving the podium, he addressed his crew, expressing and encouraging gratitude.
“I want to let you all know I appreciate every single one of you that put on a uniform and came to work today,” said Lucas. “And I appreciate every single person out there whether they’re getting in this Navy uniform or not. Our brothers and sisters are at arms and they’re doing the same thing. And if you don’t take time out when you’re out in town, no matter where you are, if you see a shipmate or somebody in a uniform that’s not in your shipmate world – not in the Navy, and you don’t say ‘thank you. Hey man, thanks for your service,’ don’t even tell them about you, just thank them.”
Gonzalez attests that, as the generations become farther removed from 9/11, it will become increasingly important to exercise remembrance.
“It struck me somewhere during my training pipeline before coming to Bulkeley that by the time I take command, I will have a Sailor on this ship that was not yet born when September 11th happened,” said Gonzalez. “That 18-year-old is going to be here in 2019. And that’s next year. So, next years recruits – 2019/2020 – they were not even alive when the towers fell. When the Pentagon was hit. When brave, ordinary men and women took their destinies into their own hands and took that plane and crashed it in the fields of Pennsylvania. Remembrance is critical. Because it reminds people why we’re still engaged in what we’re doing.”
Bulkeley, homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
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