GROTON, Conn. – The Southeastern Connecticut Navy community commemorated the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and held a flag retirement ceremony on the pier at the Historic Ship Nautilus (SSN 571) and Submarine Force Museum, Sept. 11.
The commemoration was part of the annual Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, which this year honored “service on the sea,” and combined limited in-person events and virtual events. This particular event, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was not open to the public.
“As we approach 9/11 anniversaries there is an element that many of us come back to, that recollection of what we were doing and where we were as we learned of the terrorist attacks,” said Capt. Todd Moore, commanding officer of Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London. “That day many of us wondered: what’s next? For people who had commuted to New York City and were trying to get home on 9/11, the question of ‘what’s next?’ had great significance. Due to the closure of bridges and tunnels throughout the city following the attacks, more than 500,000 were unable to leave Lower Manhattan. In reaction, the United States Coast Guard not only helped with emergency response on the water but also coordinated a large convoy of merchant ships, tugboats, and ferries to evacuate the stranded and injured victims.”
Moore highlighted the heroism and volunteer spirit of countless first responders including firefighters and U.S. Coast Guard personnel who took part in the efforts to put out fires, rescue victims and get evacuate civilians. He added that one of the ships which took part in those efforts was present in New London for the anniversary.
“The United States Coast Guard not only helped with emergency response on the water but also coordinated a large convoy of merchant ships, tugboats, and ferries to evacuate the stranded and injured victims,” said Moore. “Following the attacks, many Coast Guard units and multiple New York City Fire Department fireboats, including the Fire Fighter, were among the first vessels on scene providing firefighting support and emergency response from the water. More than 150 different vessels and 600 mariners helped evacuate victims and delivered supplies in the days following the attacks. According to then Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral James Loy, the mass evacuation of civilians from Lower Manhattan following the attacks, ‘moved more people from the island than the 1940 evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France.’”
Information Systems Technician (Submarine) 1st Class Albert Harrison shared the story of a firefighter and Navy Reservist who gave his life for his community and nation.
“Thomas Butler, 37, was a firefighter with Squad 1 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 12 years,” said Harrison. “He was killed in Tower Two when it collapsed on 9/11. Thomas loved his country. Not only did he work for the New York City Fire Department, he was a part-time Smithtown Bay constable and was serving in the Navy Reserve as a gunner’s mate third class. After 9/11, Thomas’s brother and father refused to leave Ground Zero for months. They remained at the site, sifting the wreckage looking for his remains, which they never found. His brother remembered some advice Thomas gave him on how to be a good fireman, you’re always the first in and the last out. On 9/11, Thomas Butler never came out.”
A moment of silence was observed by everyone present to recall where they were on September 11, 2001, after which the New London Firefighters Pipes and Drums band performed a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” and Chief Electronics Technician (Submarine Communications) Ben Sharib read the history of the American flag. SUBASE New London Command Master Chief Raj Sodhi then read a poem called “Olde Glory” as a well-worn and faded American flag was solemnly unfolded and cut into strips to be ceremonially retired. The ceremony concluded with Senior Chief Musician Kelly Watkins of the U.S. Coast Guard Band performing a somber rendition of taps from the forward brow of the Nautilus.