Union Tribune

March 28, 2003

Messages make powerful reminders
Words painted on carrier are taken from 9/11 tragedy


ABOARD THE CONSTELLATION The sailors and Marines on this aircraft carrier are waging the war against Iraq bolstered by constant reminders of the reason they are here so far from home.

Their inspiration comes from a large number of poignant or defiant tributes to the loss of life in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The theme was set from the start when the Constellation sailed from San Diego on Nov. 2, flying a banner declaring: "Let's roll," the battle cry of the passengers on United Flight 93 who died attempting to reclaim the jetliner from terrorist hijackers.

The message is presented in more colorful fashion by several large paintings on the gray steel walls of the cavernous hangar bay.

One has a mean-looking bald eagle sharpening its talons in front of an American flag, with the warning: "You can run but you can't hide."

Another has an eagle with a tear in its eye and the World Trade Center's twin towers burning in the background. "We will always remember 9-11," it declares.

At another spot in the Constellation's "garage" is President Bush's pledge that "we will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail" in the war on terrorism.

Fireman Timothy Fowler, 18, a member of the hangar bay firefighting team, stands watch between the two eagle tributes.

Asked what the 9/11 memorials mean to him, Fowler said, "Never forget. . . . It symbolizes that we're here for a purpose." The Cleveland native added, "The thousands of people who were killed, we're here serving their memory."

The 9/11 theme also is carried on many of the aircraft now taking the fight to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Several of the F/A-18 Hornets of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station bear tributes to former Marines who died in the twin towers as New York City firefighters.

But the most extensive tribute to the victims and heroes of 9/11 is carried by the Hornets of Fighter Attack Squadron 151 from Naval Air Station Lemoore.

Each of the Hornets carries a memorial to one of the four airliners used in the suicide attacks, or to New York Fire Department units that suffered heavy losses or to the two Navy officers who died in the Pentagon attack.

The moving force behind the tributes was VFA-151's commanding officer, Cmdr. Mark "Mutha" Hubbard.

Hubbard said he felt that the squadron "needed a purpose for the deployment. Normally we deploy as a deterrent, but this time it was a response."

Unlike the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan, the target in this war Hussein has not been linked to the Sept. 11 attack. But for these sailors, 9/11 put their jobs into perspective, the commander said. "There is no better time in history to serve their country."

The Constellation also has a living tribute to 9/11 in Lt. Cmdr. John Gormley, an F-14 Tomcat radar intercept officer in the Naval Reserve who was a lieutenant in the New York Fire Department on that tragic day.

Gormley asked to return to active duty and has been giving emotional presentations to Constellation crew members on the heroism of his fellow firefighters.

Earlier this week, Gormley presented T-shirts from FDNY firehouses to members of the carrier's flight deck crash crew, the men who would fight a fire caused by any aircraft crash, "to show they support you."

Petty Officer First Class Jitindra Sirjoo, the crash crew's leading petty officer, got one from a firehouse in the South Bronx, where he grew up.

"This is really cool," Sirjoo beamed. "It's an honor to receive this from your fire station at home, out here in the middle of the ocean."