Sailors aboard Mayport-based USS New York pause to remember heroes of 9/11
By JOE DARASKEVICH | The Florida Times-Union | Published: September 11, 2018
NAVAL STATION MAYPORT (Tribune News Service) — As the nation paused Tuesday to remember the 9/11 terror attacks 17 years earlier, the lights dimmed aboard the USS New York.
The New York is filled with tangible reminders of what happened 17 years ago in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
There is a plate of steel from the World Trade Center displayed above one of the ship's ramps and a firefighter's suit worn by a first responder is placed where the sailors can see it every day.
In the green glow of the ship's special low-visibility bulbs, the crew sat in rows of chairs to watch a short video. One head stayed down. Damage Control Master Chief Matt Platto was remembering.
He could see the horrific images without watching the video montage of news accounts of Sept. 11, 2001. The faces of first responders were there in his mind. Memories of the terror attacks had been burned into his brain; and the significance of the New York, docked at Naval Station Mayport, was not lost on him.
Platto is no longer a member of the crew. But he's at the base now as part of Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two, so he was able to attend Tuesday's ceremony aboard the New York.
"I spent over five years on other commands, but there's no place I would rather be than here," Platto said.
He's a proud plank owner of the New York, which means he was part of the crew when the vessel was commissioned. Platto said he remembers the voyage from the Louisiana shipyard to New York and all the emotion on display during the commissioning ceremony.
"I met a lot of heroes that day," he said. I was awe-inspired by meeting those firefighters, and today we still keep in touch."
Platto was easy to spot in his fatigue uniform. And in a sea of dress whites, so was Petty Officer 1st Class Stephanie Biggs.
The terror attacks are why the 31-year-old resolved as a teenager to join the military.
"It was pretty emotional as a ninth-grader, and now being an adult and re-watching it. It means that much more to me especially being on this ship," Biggs said.
She said that as she listened to her skipper talk Tuesday about memories of the attack that her own recollections came to mind.
She was a high school freshman in Phoenix who showed up to class to find out something terrible was happening on the other side of the country. Biggs said the students were instructed to turn on their TVs and the rest of the day was spent wondering why anyone would attack the United States in such an appalling way.
She said she is lucky to be old enough to remember the attacks and use those memories as inspiration. But she said it's also important to remind the younger sailors whose memories aren't as vivid.
"It's a pretty incredible experience," she said of being on the New York, "not only serving our country, but being able to represent the impact of what happened."
Capt. Brent DeVore is the commanding officer of the New York. He said in an interview that he makes sure each sailor who serves on board is aware of what the ship symbolizes. He said it's his goal to make sure each member of the crew is moved by what they see aboard the amphibious transport dock.
"I use pictures and I connect them to the sailors from the past and who they represent to help draw that connection," DeVore said. "It's not just a new sailor on board a new ship. It's a legacy that they are joining and representing."
He said the crew talks often about that legacy, and each night the ship is underway they say a prayer for a family that was impacted by the terror attacks. DeVore said it's the most powerful thing the crew does. It's a way to remind each sailor why they serve.
The most important connection on the ship is the bow stem, DeVore said, where 7.5 tons of steel from one of the twin towers was used to mold the section of the ship that plows throw the water.
"It's really difficult to pause and take a break and for us to remember," DeVore said during the ceremony. "But that is precisely what we must do ... We must never allow 9/11 to simply be a day when the flag flies at half-mast. Here we honor 9/11 every day."
He explained while most of the nation was glued to their televisions hoping to learn what was going on, there was a whole different segment of the population who were jumping to action.
DeVore reminded his sailors that firefighters rushed into burning buildings, strangers in New York helped each other any way they could and airline passengers became heroes in the skies over western Pennsylvania.
"Throughout the day on September 11, we were inspired by those who acted," DeVore said.
He told the sailors that they must carry on that legacy. But he reminded them to never forget those who came before.