PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) -- USS Key West (SSN 722) raised the First Navy Jack in place of the Union Jack Wednesday at Pearl Harbor Naval Station to honor those who died during the attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
In a similar ceremony held just across the harbor, the Aegis cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) joined the Key West in raising the Navy Jack to remember the innocent men and women who lost their lives one year ago.
The Secretary of the Navy directed that all U.S. Navy ships raise the historic Jack beginning on Sept. 11 and continue to do so throughout the global War on Terrorism. The temporary replacement of the more widely recognized Union Jack represents a historic reminder of the nation's and Navy's origin.
The First Navy Jack is a flag consisting of a rattlesnake, superimposed across 13 horizontal alternating red and white stripes with the motto, 'Don't Tread On Me.'
Commodore Esek Hopkins first employed the Jack in the fall of 1775 as he readied the Continental Navy in the Delaware River. His signal for the whole fleet to engage the enemy was the striped Jack and Ensign flown at their proper places.
"It is an honor to represent all of the ships in Pearl Harbor, to fly the Navy Jack this morning in honor of those people killed in the attacks on Sept. 11 last year," said Key West commanding officer, Cmdr. Chuck Merkel. "It's significant that USS Key West represents the fleet because we were the first ship to arrive and be within Tomahawk missile strike range following the attacks against our country last year."
According to Merkel, Key West was conducting a routine transit to the 5th Fleet when they learned of the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The submarine was then directed to proceed to the North Arabian Sea.
USS Key West was the first U.S. Navy ship to be on station and within striking distance following the attacks on the United States.
"We were absolutely ready to respond to our nation's call," he said. "We had gone through all of the training exercises, preparing for deployment and there is no doubt we were ready when this happened.
"Just like all the other ships in the Navy, we have our purposes to be ready and answer the call if required," he continued. "These are magnificent ships and the crew is the true treasure. It is my job to make sure the crew is ready to respond if required. The crew was certainly ready and responded to this attack to our country as did all of our other ships who were deployed."
Onboard the Aegis cruiser, Port Royal commanding officer Capt. Lee Geanuleas took time to remind his crew how everyone's life was changed one year ago.
"We pause to remember those who died in the first battle for liberty," he said. "We can never heal the pain of their loss but we can remember their heroism...we do this not only to honor their memory, but also to steel our resolve and to renew our commitment to the ultimate victory over evil."
Port Royal had finished the intermediate training phase (COMPTUEX) as part of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Battle Group. Within hours of the attacks, the battle group was making plans to deploy early in support of the war on terrorism.
"I joined the Navy to help defend the nation and to protect our freedom. I could not be more proud than I am right now," said Engineman Fireman Michael Pascuzzo. Also flying high was Port Royal's battle flag, a simple navy blue flag of with white letters "September 11th". The ship flew the battle flag daily throughout their deployment.
"On September 11, 2001, I was a civilian wearing the standard coat and tie, sitting in a conference room full of people," Port Royal weapons officer, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Robertson commented. "When attacks began, I was mesmerized by the television and like everyone else, was horrified at the pictures. I immediately felt the patriotic, heart-thumping call-to-arms and knew I was wearing the wrong 'uniform.'"
"A few short weeks later, my request to return to active duty was approved," Robertson continued. "I am proud to be a part of the Armed Forces during this war against terrorism, ready to defend the freedom we so very much enjoy in our country. Am I ready to head to the front lines?...Always ready."
And like Commodore Hopkins, who in 1775 readied the first ships of the Continental Navy, the crews of Key West and Port Royal represent all the Navy men and women who have responded in our nation's fight in the global war on terrorism, and all those ready to deploy when called.
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