By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey J. Hopkins and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Cameron Stoner
“On Sept. 11, 2001, at 8:45 A.M. on a clear Tuesday morning, American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel, crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City,” the chief selects of the Arliegh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) solemnly spoke over the ships 1MC.
For most Americans, the terrorist attacks that killed so many 16 years ago still ring as fresh in their minds today as they did on 9/11. It is a day that serves as a reminder of why we and our brothers and sisters in arms work tirelessly day in and day out to make sure that our friends and neighbors have a safe place to sleep at night and why wearing the cloth of our nation is both a great honor and an altruistic privilege.
This is especially true for New York natives Lt. Bill Golden and Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Joseph Rodriguez, both assigned to the Mitscher, and Lt. Nick Papetti, assigned to commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 2.
Papetti, who was 11 at the time, remembers sitting in math class when the first plane hit.
“It was a Tuesday and only the second day of school. I’ll never forget the kid in the back of class that never paid attention raising his hand and saying, ‘That building is on fire,’” Papetti said.
“We’re being attacked,” Rodriguez remembers hearing his grandmother yell.
“I turned on the news and the first thing I saw was the towers burning. I remember thinking, ‘what is the pilot doing,’ then all of the sudden, the second plane hit the second building,” said Rodriguez.
“At first, it was thought to be a freak accident, however, as both World Trade Centers were evacuated, 18 minutes later, a 2nd Boeing 767, United Airlines flight 157 veered out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center and crashed into the South Tower,” the chief selects continued.
“As soon as we received the news, quite a few students I was in English class with ran out of the room to try and call their parents, but back then, cell towers couldn’t handle the sheer volume of calls that were being made,” said Golden.
Both Papetti and Rodriguez remember the eerie silence that filled the streets and sidewalks, as if the billows of smoke and ash created a soundproof barrier around the city that never sleeps.
“All the subways were shut down, no public transportation was working, so looking back, it was unfathomable being eleven years old walking with thousands of people in total silence,” said Papetti. “It was insane.”
The chief selects went on, “As billions watched the events unfold in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 started boarding for Washington D.C. and crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:45.”
Golden considers the tragic events of this day to be a personally life changing moment that spurred him to serve his country.
“I had been considering joining the Navy since I was young, but I hadn’t thought that critically about it in high school,” he said “After 9/11, I felt like I had to take some kind of action, so I decided to apply to the Naval Academy and I was fortunate enough to be accepted,” said Golden.
For those lucky enough to take for granted life’s simple pleasures, this day may come to serve as an afterthought, but let no one not forget those who left this world by the hands of our enemies - whether they be the ones who’s graves lie at the base of the twin towers, or those who lost their lives defending our freedoms both overseas and on the home front.
And in the words of the Sailors of the mighty USS Mitscher, “Seize the Day!”