NEWPORT, R.I. -- On Sept. 11, the U.S. Naval War College remembered the 11 alumni and students killed 18 years earlier in the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
“I’m grateful for today’s opportunity to meet with you, to come together in solidarity, to come together in recognition of the sacrifices that were made,” Naval War College President Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield told the audience gathered at the college’s 9/11 Patriots Memorial, a monument made of limestone recovered from the Pentagon after the attack.
“We will read the names of those who were affiliated with the U.S. Naval War College, and we will pay our respects. And we will, for the rest of the year, remember this day,” Chatfield said.
“We will remember our oath to protect and defend, remember our commitment to our values, our system of government and our way of life, which are so worthy of being protected and defended.”
Family members of the late Navy Capt. Gerald F. DeConto attended the ceremony, as they have for many years.
A 1998 graduate of the U.S. Naval War College, 44-year-old DeConto was working in the Pentagon’s Navy Command Center when American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into that side of the building.
He was killed along with 124 others inside, including nine other service members or civilians who were either alumni or active Naval War College students in the Fleet Seminar Program. Another Naval War College alumnus, retired Navy Capt. John Yamnicky, 71, was a passenger aboard Flight 77 and died in the crash.
In an interview, Ray DeConto remembered his older brother as a high school soccer star in Sandwich, Massachusetts, who was set on his path to the U.S. Naval Academy by a school presentation about the Navy. Gerald DeConto went on to serve as a surface warfare officer and commanded the frigate USS Simpson from 1998 to 2000.
On Sept. 11, 2001, DeConto was helping coordinate the Pentagon’s initial response to the World Trade Center attacks earlier that morning when he was killed.
“It’s important for us to honor his memory and his service and his sacrifice,” Ray DeConto said. “It’s also important for the next generation. There are kids now who are adults who weren’t even born at the time of this attack.”
DeConto said his family feels a mixture of sadness and pride on the 9/11 anniversary.
“The pain isn’t the same that it was when we first lost him, but the 11th also brings a special sadness – but also a special pride – knowing that he and the others sacrificed in order to help keep America safe.”
In addition to DeConto and Yamnicky, those memorialized were Navy Lt. Cmdr. Robert R. Elseth, 37; Navy Capt. Lawrence D. Getzfred, 57; Navy civilian Angela Houtz, 27; Navy Lt. Cmdr. Patrick J. Murphy, 38; Navy Lt. Jonas M. Panik, 26; Jack D. Punches, 50, a retired Navy captain working at the Pentagon as a civilian; Navy Cmdr. Robert A. Schlegel, 38; Navy Cmdr. Dan F. Shanower, 40; and Army Lt. Col. Kip P. Taylor, 38.
Newport Sailors selected to become chief petty officers read out the name and history of each fallen person. A bell clanged after each one.
One speaker noted that the group reflects the wide spectrum of those who answer the call to serve: officers and civilians, men and women, young and old.
“It is a cross section of our military force,” said David Fahy, a chief select Seabee. “And it is evidence that patriotic sacrifice is not limited to any one group of Americans.”
Watch a U.S. Naval War College news video about the event: https://youtu.be/6112POUBJG8