My Coast Guard
Commentary | Sept. 10, 2021

The faces of September 11, 2001.

By Taken from Sector New York’s Facebook page

The following is pulled from Sector New York’s Facebook page. the profiles of each person written and photographed by Dan Henry, Sector New York’s public affairs officer. 

Rear Rear Adm. Mike DayAdm. Mike Day

Mike Day is one of those people who knows his way around New York. He should, he’s been here a few times.
 
The first time he was a Coast Guard lieutenant in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. He was in a morning brief on the second floor at Activities New York on September 11th when the watch stander came in and told the group that there were reports of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers – the same buildings he was scheduled to have a meeting in later that morning.
 
Like most everyone else, he thought it was a small plane or a helicopter. When the second plane hit, everyone in the room knew otherwise. Later that day, Day would send out a call from the Coast Guard to "All available boats…" and  end up coordinating the movement - along with hundreds of colleagues, port partners, and volunteers - of more than a half million people from Manhattan over a nine-hour period.
 
He would be here again in 2015, this time as the Captain of the Port and commander of Sector New York. The colleagues and peers who galvanized to rescue their fellow New Yorkers were still here; some now civilian, all a part of the legacy of the monumental task that they embraced and accomplished 14 years earlier. The friendships and relationships built with port partners and law enforcement forged through shared adversity, now paramount to protecting the region's maritime environment. 
 
Today he is here once more, now a rear admiral, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11; Once again with his former colleagues, with the families of fallen Coast Guardsmen, with friends forged through the port long ago, and now with the new faces that sit at the tip of the spear. This time he is here to remember those who were lost, to honor those who rose to the occasion when their fellow New Yorkers needed them most, and to acknowledge the joint legacy and continued partnerships necessary to protect the New York.
 
“Port security is not an abstract concept when you’ve lived through it. There were no strangers that day, our relationships were strong - the reputation of the Coast Guard is stellar in the port. There’s still friendships. Those are all relationships that were built and endure and carry on.”

Capt. Zeita Merchant, commander Sector New York
Capt. Zeita Merchant, commander Sector New YorkThe story of the Coast Guard on September 11th may have begun in New York, where the day would see an “all hands on deck” response of such magnitude that its impact has been felt for a generation, but that is certainly not where it would end. 

The attacks that severe clear Tuesday morning would touch every aspect of the service – the ripple of its wake felt far and wide.

Thousands of miles away, in a command center in New Orleans, the young lieutenant junior grade in charge, Zeita Merchant, like many others in the Coast Guard and around the country, was attempting to wrap her head around the events she had just witnessed from afar.

Making sense of the unimaginable was hard enough that day, but she also had a job to do – ensure that a similar event wasn’t happening in her own back yard as well. 

“The heaviness of service to nation for me as a junior officer has never been stronger than in those seconds I stood in awe watching the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Immediately, after realizing that our country was under attack, I had our watch team jump into action. That day alone was not only a watershed moment for the Coast Guard but also for me and my commitment to a career of devoted service in uniform.”

In all of the, though, the idea of being an serving in New York never really crossed her mind.

Nearly 20 years to the day, not only is she in New York, the epicenter of arguably the greatest tragedy to befall our nation, but Merchant now leads the team at the tip of the spear – heir to the charge of upholding the legacy that many of those still here forged during 9/11; and doing so in a time where New York remains our country’s most consequential port in terms of both terror threats and driving the engines of commerce. 

“We often say the work we do in safeguarding New York Harbor is a team sport, and there was no better example of this when Coast Guard New York and our port partners led the largest maritime evacuation in history evacuating 500,000 New Yorkers from Manhattan. It’s 20 years later and that same unity of effort has only gotten stronger. We have the best in any business here in New York and I am humbly honored to serve with them.”

As she reflects on the 20th anniversary, it is not lost on her that there are those who remain out there waiting for the right moment to do harm to the city and the nation she serves. But she and her team stand ready. 

“While it is necessarily important that we pause, reflect, and never forget, we must also move FORWARD. The threats we face today are not only real but constantly evolving to challenge our continued resolve, and the Coast Guard, as well as our partners, are leaning forever forward to meet them.”

Coast Guard Cutter LineCutter Line
More than likely, you won’t notice it at first, but there’s something a little different about the hull numbers on the Coast Guard Cutter Line.

65611, one third of Sector New York’s small fleet of sturdy, black hulled, ice breaking, 65-foot small harbor tugs, looks fairly nondescript alongside its sister tug, Cutter Hawser, and the larger cutters that call Bayonne, New Jersey, home. 

Take a closer look at the stark white numbers painted on its bow, thought and you’ll be in for a pleasant and unexpectedly powerful surprise. The last two digits in the hull number are not digits at all – they are an illustration of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. According to Chief Petty Officer Ric Johnson, the officer in charge of the Line, the illustration is there to honor the role the Line played in responding to the tragedy of September 11th. 

“Line was actually enroute to emergency haul-out in Massachusetts when they got the word of the attacks. Upon receiving the news, they turned back toward New York Harbor. At a blistering 10 knots, Line did not make it back in time to assist in the evacuation of lower Manhattan, but upon arrival in homeport, Line was tasked with securing New York Harbor in support of Operation Guarding Liberty and later Operation Noble Eagle. Line was able to provide transport of personnel, emergency workers, and lifesaving supplies in support of the rescue efforts. “

Johnson was a high school senior on September 11th – and now some 20 years later, he finds himself the steward of a special piece of the legacy of the Coast Guard’s response that day; the meaning of that duty is not lost on the cutter nor his crew. 

The legacy and the traditions on board the Cutter Line run deep. From the hull numbers to the ship’s seal, it’s a constant reminder of all the cutter has accomplished. The crew is aware of Mike Di Traniwhat it all stands for and they are all proud to say they serve aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Line. A ship is nothing without a crew, and this crew, like the crews before is nothing short of amazing. 

Mike Di Trani
Everybody seems to know Mike Di Trani. 

That’s what happens when you’re a fixture in both the Coast Guard and the New York City Police Department for, literally, decades.

Nowadays you’re likely to see him in a Boy Scout leader uniform pushing a shopping cart with a boom box and scores of miniature flags as he teaches young scouts about life; or going on well-deserved vacations with his first granddaughter tagging along.

Thirty years ago, though, his uniform wasn’t the olive drab and grey of the boy scouts, but rather the dark blue of the NYPD. And on arguably the worst day of his and most New Yorkers lives, he was a lieutenant in lower Manhattan as part of a technical assistance response unit mobilized in the shadow of the World Trade Center right before it fell.

“I remember the day, it was a cheerful blue sky. Not a regular blue, but a light crystalline color. I always remember how good I felt that morning. It was invigorating. And how hours later it was replaced by shock, anger and horror….

“The sky was so blue…and then day turned into night. You couldn’t see the sun after the towers fell.” 

Mike would spend the next several months helping the city and police department that he loved recover from the unthinkable; and then trade in his NYPD blue for that of the Coast Guard, now on active duty and responsible for securing the people and places that make up Sector New York. A job that he would perform both in uniform and as a civilian for 19 more years.

Nobody expected the first 9/11 to happen. Mike was going to do everything possible to ensure a second one didn’t happen to the Coast Guard on his watch.

Maura Redy

Maura RedyMaura Redy had the same thought run through her mind that a lot of Americans did when she first heard that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers on a pretty Tuesday morning in September 2001.

“I remember thinking ‘my goodness, how tragic - the pilot must have had a heart attack or something?’ I couldn’t fathom how a plane could hit one of the buildings.” 

The mother of four [the two youngest of whom, Bailey and Abby, were still in the car after she dropped the older children, Kait and Tyler, off at their school bus on Sandy Hook] was on her way to pick up party goods. Abby’s first birthday would be Wednesday, September 12th, so they were going to celebrate the next day.

“It seemed like only minutes later the radio announced that the second building was hit. That's when the seriousness of what was happening began to set in. Little did I realize that at that moment our lives as Americans would be forever changed.”

Back then Maura was the Ombudsman for the Coast Guard Cutter Adak, where her husband was assigned. The Adak was homeported in Sandy Hook, but after the 9/11 attacks, the cutter was one of four forward deployed to Bahrain to assist in Operation Iraqi Freedom. For her it was a very unsettling time, as she and the children remained at Sandy Hook during the training and deployment. 

Fast forward 20 years and life, in many ways, seems to have come full circle. 

Maura now coordinates the Ombudsman and Child Development Programs for Coast Guard’s First District; and her youngest son Bailey, who was in the car with her that fateful morning and is now in the Coast Guard, deployed with his Fast Response Cutter (FRC) Charles Moulthrope this past March to Bahrain. While there, he got underway with the Adak, his father’s former ship, on their last patrol before decommissioning.

Bailey’s home now. Maura went to picked him up from the airport a couple days ago, the first time he’s been back since his deployment, on another pretty day in September.

Dan Croce

On September 11th Dan Croce wasn’t in the Coast Guard anymore. Dan Croce

He was actually working at a new civilian job in the marine insurance industry in lower Manhattan just a few weeks following his last active duty tour as a commander at Governors Island. 

That morning he was walking from the subway, unaware that the first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, when he was suddenly hit by falling debris. He went to his office, located near the towers, to get in touch with the Coast Guard at Activities New York to let them know what happened when the building he was in shook violently. The second plane had hit while he was on the phone.

After evacuating with his new coworkers and seeing waves of humanity head toward Battery Park to get away from the tall buildings that were now on fire, he realized that the only way people could leave Manhattan was by water; by this point the subways and mass transit had come to a halt. All of sudden he was back in the Coast Guard, ultimately reaching a chief warrant officer who had worked for him only a few weeks before who got word to the command center that they needed boats to move people out of lower Manhattan. 

“Later, after the dust settled from the building collapses, I could see daylight again. I looked out the window and saw the Pilot Boat New York heading towards Upper Bay and the Battery, leading a fleet of tugs and other small boats in what appeared to be a ‘V’ formation. I thought with tears in my eyes that they got my message and help was on the way! 

“There were so many people in the Coast Guard, the maritime industry, NYPD and FDNY that stepped up and did great things that day. I will be forever grateful to those that did so.”v

Kara Riemer
Kara RiemerKara Riemer was a young nurse, with a toddler, getting ready to leave for work on Long Island when she received a phone call from her husband, a Coast Guard reservist, who happened to also be a paramedic in New York.

He was getting their Jeep maintenance done that morning when he got word that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center and he would have to go in.

If he did, though, that would be a problem. He was supposed to watch their little one, Emma, while she worked that day. She couldn’t afford to call in sick, and they couldn’t afford to have her in day care. And besides, Manhattan wasn’t even where he was supposed to be working.

“I was thinking this is a small plane, this isn’t your area of coverage.”

While she was explaining all this to her husband, Rob, she turned the TV on and watched a second plane hit the tower. The things she had been worried about suddenly became irrelevant. This was not an accident.

“The first thing that went through my mind was the people that I know. I had been to my sister’s office; there was fear and worry. She worked a block over.”

Rob came home, kissed them, and said he was going in.

The events of 9/11 played a role in changing the life they had planned. Rob went to the World Trade Center that day as a paramedic. A week later he was on active duty with the Coast Guard; and while he remained a reservist for a little while after 9/11, he eventually stayed on active duty where he remains today as Sector New York’s Command Master Chief.

It changed her life in other ways, too, particularly through the lens of the loss of a childhood friend, Jonathan Ielpi. Her perspective on life changed – as well as her appreciation of how things can change in an instant.

“I remember thinking that it took a long time for us to form the words to talk about 9/11…but the biggest impact is that now you just don’t take anything for granted."