Archive for Tuesday, September 10, 2013

U.S. Navy veteran recalls Sept. 11

September 10, 2013

I had put in my paperwork to retire from the Navy a couple weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, having served for more than 20 years.

I was stationed at the Naval base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I worked in what was called migrant operations. We took care of Cuban and Haitian migrants whom the U.S. Coast Guard was detaining on the way to the United States and were awaiting further investigation.

On that day I awoke like many other days. I went to work and met up with one of my co-workers, PN1 Brown. We received our reports that were necessary to be taken to the various offices on the base. We then went to the headquarters building for the Naval station and she left to go drop off the reports and pick up all the official mail that needed to be brought to the division. Roughly 30 minutes late at 9:30 a.m. I started seeing people running in and out of the headquarters building.

I was listening to a radio program on the van radio, (I should stop here and explain that everything that is broadcast on the base was tape delayed with the exception of the new and sporting events which were carried live, all other television and radio programs were tape delayed by about one week before they were seen or heard on the base). About 45 minutes later Brown came out to the van where I was waiting and she looked flustered. Someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center, she said.

I told her she needed to come up with a better story than that. I knew she had just been in there talking to some of her friends and the time had just gotten way from her. She was adamant that it did happen just as she said.

We left from there to check on one of our other team members EO1 Muller,  who was waiting on a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter that was bringing in another migrant it had picked up the night before. When we arrived at the pier the other Muller member asked if we had heard about the plane flying into the World Trade Center. Shortly after that they switched the radio to a live news broadcast, they began describing what was happening. I immediately began working up a plan of action and told Brown that we had some stuff we needed to do right away. We nabbed some of our personal equipment in case we could not go home and grabbed some food (McDonald’s).

Then I put our camp on alert, and told them not to allow anyone other than the migrants or team members to enter the camp until further notice, and also have someone watch the ocean behind our camp.

I told them that more information would be coming after the department head meeting. We then called our families off the island, told them we were OK and we would call again when we could. We then notified the rest of the team leaders, to report to the office at the time directed. Once the department head meeting was completed, we all met with our supervisor who told us that, yes, we had been attacked, and that the Cubans were not going to give us any problems. He asked us what actions had been taken, I told him about what I had ordered done, and he agreed with my steps. He told us all to get some rest, be ready and watch the news.

He informed us that the base was going to have a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. curfew, Clubs would be closed and movies were canceled until further notice. Luckily the barge that brought all the food and supplies to the base from Jacksonville, Fla., had docked before the attacks took place or they would have been turned away as well. It takes a full week for the barge and tug to make the trip. The grocery store shelves would have been very bare by the time they could get back to us.

When I finally was able to go to my barracks room, I first had to get the Marines to allow me access to my room. I was not on a list someone had created. I finally had some help from a staff sergeant who told the corporal of the guard to allow me in. I finally made it to my room and turned on the news. I know I went through the same emotions as everyone else — first I was shocked, then I got mad. A couple days after the attack I learned that my retirement had been turned down. We had all been placed on stop loss until the end of the conflict, which was fine with me,

I wanted to do what we needed to in order to fix it so that what happened never happened ever again.

— Harden is adjutant for Tonganoxie American Legion Post 41. He also is a member of the 1st District Executive Committee for the American Legion Department of Kansas.

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