PACIFIC OCEAN -- September 11, 2001 began as a normal Tuesday for citizens all over the country. Many New Yorkers began the day early and hustled off to work. Some stopped to get coffee or breakfast, gradually making their way to their destinations.
By 9 a.m. the city was hustling like any other morning. By 10:28 a.m., the nation would come to a standstill as they witnessed the horrifiying events of 9/11 unfold.
After watching both north and south World Trade Center towers fall, the Pentagon severely damaged, and witnessing the loss of innocent civilian lives, the course of American history was forever changed. The U.S. began the "War on Terror", and citizens patriotically volunteered for military service. After more than a decade, men and women all over the U.S. still join the armed forces as a result of 9/11.
In New York and in cities all over the U.S., Americans stopped to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the attack, Sept. 11, 2014. Far off the coast of Mexico, the crew of future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), the first ship of its kind and the fourth ship to be graced with the name "America", also took time to pay respect to the fallen.
Sailors and Marines gathered in the ship's hangar bay for a special ceremony organized by chief petty officer selects on board.
The ceremony began as America's Commanding Officer Capt. Robert A. Hall Jr., stepped up to the podium for opening remarks.
"Thirteen years ago, the Sept. 11 tragedy irreversibly changed our nation," Hall said. "It was a devastating day in our history, but it was a day that brought out the best in all of us. A day that showed the world what Americans are made of."
Hall described the attack itself, spoke of the brave men and women of Flight 93 and those covered in ash who rushed in to help the thousands in need. At the conclusion of Hall's remarks, the event's special guest speaker, Fire Controlman 3rd Class Jessie Virga, stepped forward to deliver her story.
Virga is a Brooklyn native and joined the a Navy because of 9/11. She witnessed the attacks firsthand as she and her classmates watched the events unfurl through the windows of her New York classroom. As Virga described the attack and the aftermath that followed, tears swelled in the eyes of many of the crew members.
"I asked to get orders to the America," said Virga. "I'm from New York, and everyone there is very proud to be from there. Watching an attack like that, so close to home, takes something from you, but it awakens something else. It makes you feel more proud to be an American, and for me, serving on a ship named America is an honor and a privilege. Every salute I render and every day I spend in uniform is me filling the void of what I lost that day."
Like Virga, many of the crew specifically joined the military to do their part to help ensure the events of 9/11 never happen again.
One of those Sailors, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuel) 1st Class Brad Cooper, lost a family member in one of the towers. At the time of the attacks, Cooper was enrolled the Navy's Delayed Entry Program, a program in which men and women commit to entering the armed forces.
"The events of 9/11 are memories that I hold very near and dear to my heart," Cooper said. "After realizing what was happening, if I could have left to enter the Navy within the next hour, I would have. It's a day I will never forget."
At the completion of Virga's remarks, the crew held a moment of silence for each flight lost that day. As each flight number was called, two bells were struck to render honors to those who perished. Chief (select) Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Sean Broadhurst, master of ceremonies, called out each flight number.
"Flight 11... Flight 175... Flight 77... Flight 93... ," Broadhurst said. "This year, being our first year on board America, we will try something different. As a tribute to the men and women who died that day, we will pass into the sea, flowers and vessels [containing the names of the 2,893 killed]."
At that moment, Lt. j.g. David Kelts played "Amazing Grace" on his violin while Sailors and Marines in that hangar bay paid respects to those who lost their lives 13 years ago.
"Being on board America and knowing what the name means to so many people, you quickly realize that its not a game," said Electrician's Mate 1st Class Vincent Dubose, who was changing to go on watch when Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. "It is for real. [Events like 9/11] can actually happen. Some people believe that it could never happen to them. I was in D.C. when it happenend. I know how real it is.
"I actually heard the plane hit the Pentagon. I quickly ran outside and looked across the river where I saw the black smoke coming from the Pentagon," Dubose said.
Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3, said ordinary individuals did extraordinary things that day, rushing to help complete strangers.
"The Navy and Marine Corps team is the country's first line of defense, or offense, if necessary," said Ponds. "Most of us joined as a result of the events of 9/11, and most of us continue to serve for the same reason. It doesn't matter that you serve. It doesn't matter why you serve. What matters most is how you serve; with honor, courage and commitment."
America and her crew are days away from completing their maiden voyage "America Visits the Americas" as the ship makes her way to her homeport of San Diego. The crew trained for nearly two years to take possession of the ship and will soon bring her to life during a commissioning ceremony in San Francisco, Oct. 11.