ABOARD USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- Throughout the world, Americans of every faith and background gathered yesterday to remember the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and honor those whose lives were lost.
Nowhere is the realization of that sacrifice more evident than in the military. Servicemembers have left a legacy of sacrifice, making these memorial ceremonies today all the more poignant.
While many of the Sailors and Marines on USS Essex (LHD 2) are taking a moment during their semi-annual Blue-Green Workups to pay respect to those who lost their lives one year ago, the commemoration is a very personal reminder of that day for some on board.
Essex Administration Officer Lt. Kelly Ennis was working for the Vice Chief of Naval Operations at the time of the attack.
"I noticed my office was kind of quiet, so I went across the hallway to the main office," he said. "Everyone was hovered around the TV, and that was when the first jet had just went into the World Trade Center."
Moments later, the second jet hit. Even then, there was no reason for Ennis to think the Pentagon would be the next target.
"All I could think is that we needed to get some help in New York," he said. "But all we could do at that time was watch, listen and pray for our family members there."
Just five miles from the Pentagon, Essex Executive Officer Capt. John Riley was attending a meeting with the Chief of Naval Operation's Executive Panel at the Center for Naval Analysis.
"It was at the [session] where we had to interrupt the speaker and announce that the World Trade Center had been struck by an aircraft," Riley said. "And shortly after that I walked out and heard the Pentagon had been hit."
The meeting was immediately interrupted as the attendees watched CNN to see what was occurring just down the road at the Pentagon.
"Initially, people were leaving the building in an orderly way," Ennis said. "There was no panic, no running. But outside the River entrance, it was chaos. Helicopters were coming in to evacuate the injured, and then we got word that another terrorist attack was expected, and that panicked everyone."
It would take time before America would know the full extent of the damage done on Sept. 11, and the impact that would be felt around the world.
Chief Intelligence Specialist (Sel) Matthew Kokkeler was in Hawaii on Sept. 11, but he soon learned that his former boss, then-Lt. Daniel Shanower was among those lost at the Pentagon. Shanower had since become a commander.
"I served with Lt. Shanower at Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Detachment, Kamiseya, Japan," Kokkeler said. "He was very personable, yet very business-oriented. One of those charismatic guys you wanted to work for."
Kokkeler said the tragedy was a wake-up call for all Americans, especially those in uniform. He said it changed the perspective of some who might have had ulterior motives for joining the military.
"Everybody remembers what we're here for - we're here to protect the country," Kokkeler said. "That's much more evident in people's minds now."
If there were servicemembers who questioned their purpose, Personnelman 3rd Class Jeffrey Jurgens wasn't one of them. He originally served in the Navy from 1983 to 1987, during which time America found itself pitted against Libya. He returned to the Navy in October 2001 with a greater determination to serve his country.
"The biggest reason I rejoined the Navy was that I used to live in New York for eight years, and it was a difficult thing to just sit and watch the TV as that city burned," Jurgens said. "Like most people, I had a sense of urgency to do something, and the first time I thought about rejoining, it was all over. I couldn't turn back."
While the vast majority of Americans shared Jurgens' zeal in the aftermath of 9/11, some have grown frustrated, as a resolution hasn't come about as quickly as they had hoped. But then, instant results are unrealistic when dealing with such an elusive enemy.
"We learned a lot of lessons in Vietnam, and as we progressed through the Gulf War and almost immediate results were seen, the American public got used to the swift defeat of our enemies," Riley said. "I don't think they realize that in this war on terrorism we're in for the long run because it's hard to identify the enemy."
The Essex Amphibious Ready Group, which is comprised of Essex, USS Juneau (LPD 10) and USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, made clear through their observance that America will not forget the price that was, and continues to be paid, for freedom.
"Last year's terrorist attacks on our nation highlighted the new reality of warfare," Essex Commanding Officer Capt. Ronald Evans told the crew during the commemoration ceremony. "It was evidenced so graphically, both in New York City and in Washington, that a new form of open warfare was declared against America, directly targeting civilian and military personnel and our institutions alike."
America continues to rebuild her infrastructure on the home front, while men and women in uniform carry out the mission abroad. The Essex ARG is taking that mission to heart, as they conduct their workups to prepare the MEU for their Special Operations Capable certification.
"The Pentagon has bounced back, and people are coming together in remembrance of what took place a year ago," Ennis said. "It brings back vivid memories, but we're strong, knowing we'll all pull through this together."
Evans added to those comments, defining the American spirit of resolve: "In the months ahead, while in the face of an unseen enemy and unknown dangers, we will spare no effort to protect the American people and support our Commander in Chief's pledge to bring to justice the terrorists who hurt our country and those who harbor them."
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