WASHINGTON (NNS) -- For Navy Lt. Kevin Shaeffer, September 11, 2001, started like any other Tuesday morning in the Navy Command Center.
"Never did I expect my world to be changed. But in an instant, the Command Center was in a fireball. The roof and ceiling had collapsed. It was darkness, full of smoke," Shaeffer said.
Despite his injuries, Shaeffer made his way through another office space and into the light of the day. "I found myself outside staring up at this beautiful, blue sky, and the next thing I saw was Steve (Army Sgt. 1st Class Steve Workman), and, from that moment, I knew I was in good hands. And he took care of me that day in a way that I'm sure saved my life."
During an April 26 ceremony at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark presented the Purple Heart to Shaeffer for the injuries he sustained during the attack and Director of the Army Staff Lt. Gen. Kevin Byrnes presented the Soldier's Medal to Workman for rescuing Shaeffer.
Also at the ceremony, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz praised Shaeffer, Workman and all American servicemembers for their "uncommon valor."
"We know that we are fortunate to have Kevin Shaeffer with us, and we also know that we are fortunate to have men and women who serve in our military like Sergeant Workman who responded," the CNO said. "We train our young men and women to do just exactly that. Our nation is lucky to have people like Sergeant Workman and Lt. Shaeffer."
Clark recalled visiting Shaeffer in the hospital the first Sunday after the attack. "What I remember vividly about that day was that Kevin was fighting for his life. On that day, every breath was a battle, and he won it. Over the course of months, I didn't get to see Kevin because he was in critical condition. On a daily basis, we were getting reports about Kevin."
The CNO said the actions of Shaeffer and Workman exemplify the character of service and the unbreakable American spirit.
"Our nation is blessed to have men and women who understand what it means to serve. We are recognizing two of those individuals today," Clark said. "I like to talk about service because I think it is what separates us apart. None of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, Marines or Coast Guardsmen do it for the money. They do it because they have committed themselves to the principles and the values that our nation holds dear."
Clark added that the Purple Heart is awarded to servicemembers who pay a great price in defense of freedom.
"We talk about sacrifice in our profession. We have a medal like the Purple Heart to recognize individuals who have suffered greatly, and Kevin Shaeffer is such a person. Kevin Shaeffer will never forget 9/11. He was burned over 40 percent of his body. He will undergo dozens of surgeries before this is all over. Kevin, I want you to know that we are inspired by your example," Clark said.
"That day found him in our Command Center," the CNO said. "We're so glad today, Kevin, that this day finds you here with us."