I write this with a heavy heart and with some trepidation. The heavy heart because these are hard memories for me to bring up. Not because I lost anyone I knew only 6yrs ago, but the scariness of knowing that I was safer haze grey and underway then those at home. I also do so with some trepidation because I am not looking for any sort of hero worship or even acclaim. I just feel as though I am finally ready to talk about my own experiences back in September 2001. I came to this from talking with my fellow blogger and friend SteelJaw
, he was the one that pushed me to at least jot down what I remember from that day. If you go and check out his blog for this weekend you will read about his experiences inside the Pentagon at the moment American Airlines Flight 77 hit it. I was haze grey and under way on board the USS Enterprise
, CVN-65, we had just been relieved from doing Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf by the USS Carl Vinson
, CVN-70. We were going to cross the equator hit Cape Town, South Africa and be the first US warship to have visited South Africa in 50 yrs and then hit Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. After which it was going to be home and relaxation in my own bed in my own home.
The big talk as we were getting ready to out chop from 5th Fleet control was about crossing the line. Bringing on Davy Jones, King Neptune and the Royal Family, and then all the shellbacks inducting us lowly pollywogs into the royal realm. I had been debating with myself which set of boots and dungarees I was going to burn up for the crossing the line. The other big thing was just how few shellbacks were on board. In my department alone out of about 800 of us only 80 people were official shellbacks.
I was working a night shift, so my hours were from approximately 1900 (or 7pm for you military types) to about 0700 the next morning. We were in the Indian Ocean and about 12hours ahead of the east coast of the USA. For some reason I woke up early that night. I was up around 1800, normally my alarm clocks ( I use two) wake me up around 1830. It was at that time I heard the following from our commanding officer.
"....so we are going to be setting condition Zebra through out the ship until we know what else is going on. I need all of you to push the TV images you might have seen or might be seeing out of your mind and do your jobs at general quarters. To emphasise again the United States has been attacked and we are going to GQ, we don't know who or what else has been attack, don't know what is going on next, to be honest we don't know much."
I thought to myself as I was slowly waking up that it wasn't drill day, because we just had a drill two days ago. I staggered from the cubicle that I slept in and walked over to our tiny TV lounge. This was located just outside the berthing and it was a tiny little space. On a good day about 12 people could very comfortable in this little space and look at a 36in TV and DVD combo in one corner. Because this little space was under a catapult room and it was very loud, so one of us AT's had rigged up a ghettoized versions of theater sound package using a couple amps and some government issued speakers (about eight of them) so we had some pretty decent sound.
Anyhow, like I said this tiny little space had enough room for 12 people and that at standing room only. We forced about 30 people of the oncoming shift all in there. Someone had turned on AFRTS's all news channel and we were catching a satellite delayed of what was supposed to be the second hour of the "Today" show. Instead we heard one of the NBC news anchors reporting all that was going on live on the "Today" set. Then some one screamed on the TV that it is happening again. At which I saw the second airplane hit the towers.
It seemed to me that time sort of froze and I felt as if I had failed some how in my job.
"I think we are at war." , came from some one in the room and pulled me out of my deep thought cycle.
"You fricking think so!", came from someone else. Before it could descend into a good ol'fashioned stressed filled argument, the general quarters klaxon went off. So those of us still not dressed for work staggered back to our racks and tried to get dressed. There was 4 other night checkers in my cube and with us all there it became a Chinese fire drill as we got dressed. I remember trying to pull over a clean undershirt when my pants started to come up.
"OKAY who is touching my pants!?!" I said pretty loudly
"My bad, I thought those were my pants." someone else said to me.
Another pair of us rolled into each other because they each tried to pull the same dungaree shirt. If this wasn't a serious thing going on it probably would of been funny. I finished up getting dressed and ran down to my repair locker. I was assigned to one fox in the forward hangar bay. Got down there and started to suit up into a fire fighting ensemble and OBA's. We sat around for what seemed like forever sweating while waiting for the other shoe to drop. One of the phone talkers in the locker was reporting what she was hearing on the line. It was strange because all sorts of rumors were running on the lines. Think of that only campfire game of telephone. You know the game don't you readers? Everyone sits around the campfire and someone on one side whispers into another and it goes around to the end. Where the end repeats it out loud to see how it might of changed.
There were rumors such as attacks in other cities besides NYC and DC were going on. There was rumors of a nuclear attack, submarines spotted near the battle group. All sorts of rumors were reported on the lines that night. As the stranger and stranger rumors were coming out, the secured from GQ was passed over the 1MC.
I got changed out of the FFE and OBA and then walked into the shop. We were glued to the TV's. People were watching the all news channel. The funniest thing that was happening that day was how the Navy News Service's "Daily News Update" seemed to be stuck on repeat since all it kept to be reporting that the Pentagon was on fire and had been struck by something and that the WTC towers had been attacked. It seemed about every half and hour the DNU came up and this fine looking JO2 said the same thing and same thing. After sitting around forever watching the news and arguing about what this was all about. One of my guys said that maybe it was that some sort of crew from Senator Condit who was involved with Chandra Levy
. They did this to take him out of the news. Another guy brought up maybe it was that Dominican Republic teenager who was kicked out of the little league world series for being too old. We bounced all sorts of strange things off each other as a way to lighten the mood. I don't know how to explain it, but we resorted to this sort of gallows humor as a way to bury our own stress.
Some one noticed that it was around midnight and we should try and get some food from Mid-Rats. The lines for food was unusually short. So after getting food we found a place to sit down. I noticed that it was church like quiet. That was unusual because most of the times on the mess decks of an aircraft carrier it is a pretty noisy affair. People were talking about work, port, or what have you normally. This night it was hushed tones about what was going on. Rumors again were running rampant.
At the end of the meal we walked back to work and started again to sit around the TV and watch the news. Again nothing new. We should of been working on the gear we had. Yet we wanted to see what the news could tell us about what was happening next. It was in between grabbing food and coming back to work that the towers fell. At that point the bitch boxes we had in our shops came alive and the maintenance master chief started to scream at us (actually all of the maintenance department) to get to work pushing gear out. There were priority one repairables to work and we had plenty of time. I just remember the TV becoming background noise at that point and I started to work. It was some time in the morning the day shift came in and relieved us. I debated with myself if I should stay up or just head to bed. It was when I almost stumbled because I was so tired that resolved my debate. I went up the ladder wheel, stripped down to a towel and some shower shoes. Staggered off to the showers and came back to get the rack and fell promtly asleep in my rack.
That was my memories of that day.
Labels: History, Southern Air Pirate