Marines, Sailors conduct first-time 9/11 memorial ceremony aboard USS America

15 Sep 2014 | 1st Lt. Joshua Pena

A sea of green and blue blended in the hangar bay of the future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) as Marines and Sailors with America and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force South stood in formation to remember the tragic events from 13 years ago, Sept. 11.
The Sept. 11 memorial ceremony consisted of a video, speeches and the folding of a flag to honor those who were killed.
The memorial video was followed by a speech from Robert Hall Jr., commanding officer of America, to open the ceremony, reminding the Marines and Sailors why they stop to remember this day. He quoted the words of former President George W. Bush.
“These acts of mass-murder were intended to frighten our nation,” said Hall. “But they have failed, our country is strong. A great people have been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundation of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”
Over 3,000 civilians were killed and 6,000 were injured on Sept. 11, said Hall. He urged the Marines and Sailors to never forget the significance of the tragic event.
“So now as the years separate us and cloud our memories of the events of that day, I ask that you never forget,” he said. “Never forget the brave and heroic acts of countless Americans on that day and by countless Americans since. Especially, never forget how our great country reacted.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jessie Virga, a native of New York City, shared her personal testimony of her experience on Sept. 11. She was in class when she became an eye witness to the first plane crashing into the North tower and the second into the South.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” said Virga. “There is no airport in New York. You will never see a plane leaving New York. On September 11, I saw a low flying plane.”

Virga said her teacher had her convinced that the first plane-crash was an accident. However, she could not deny reality of the situation as she watched the event unfold from her classroom window.

“I saw that second plane hit that second tower,” She said. “That’s when I knew it was not an accident.”

Her story brought a sense of reality to many, whose memories of the event are limited to what they saw on their televisions. Virga said she wanted her story to be a paintbrush for the Marines and Sailors to paint their own memories of that day.
Following her testimony, Sailors marched in a line carrying flowers and bottles filled with the names of the men and women who lost their lives. One-by-one, the items were carried through the hangar bay doors to be tossed into the Pacific as the melody of "Amazing Grace" played in the background.

Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3 stepped up to the lectern to address the Marines and Sailors.
“Most of you signed up because of what happened,” said Ponds. “Most of us stayed in because of what happened. It doesn’t matter that you served, it doesn’t matter why you served, what matters most is how you served. With honor, with courage, with commitment, but most of all with character and dignity.”

Ponds encouraged the Marines and Sailors by reminding them who they are and what they represent.

“You are the one percent that protects the freedom of the other 99 percent,” he said. “Everything that we have been through has made us who we are today, resilient. It has given us the ability to rebound from the most tragic of incidents. Let us not wait for a day like today to remind us of who we are; of our commitment.”

The Marines and Sailors snapped to attention as Taps was played and a flag was folded to honor those who lost their lives. After a moment of silence the ceremony ended and the service members returned to their primary duties, getting America home.

The historic moment was held aboard America only days before arriving to her homeport in San Diego. The ship is concluding her maiden transit “America visits the Americas” carrying Marines and Sailors of Special Purpose Marines Air Ground Task Force South. During her transit the ship has made five port visits with South American partner-nations to conduct theater security cooperation events and key leader engagements, building upon existing relationships to enhance regional security. The transit demonstrated the unparalleled expeditionary capability that the Navy-Marine Corps team provides our Nation and partners. The ship is scheduled to be ceremoniously commissioned in San Francisco, Oct. 11.