My 9/11 Story
I was CDO aboard NICHOLAS, inport Valetta, Malta, nursing a hangover that would have been memorable without the day’s tragic events. The day before, we pulled into Valetta behind HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and their Captain invited our wardroom to the reception aboard "Lusty" that evening. The previous ILLUSTRIOUS relieved the siege of Malta during the Second World War, so it was a big deal, the beer was free and an excellent time was had by all.
The next day I was sitting in the wardroom of NIC with the Captain and XO, drinking coffee with the Captain of the Port and waiting for the Motrin to kick in. The phone rang, and it was our NCIS liaison calling to tell me that an aircraft had hit the WTC. Our DTS antenna was masked, so we couldn’t check out CNN ourselves. I mentioned it to the Captain, he grunted, and the meeting continued. Ten minutes later, the NCIS agent calls back the second time, I tell the Captain, and he says “close up PAPA and make preparations for getting underway.”
The Port Captain goes to the quarterdeck to make some calls on his cell phone, and maybe fifteen minutes later a Maltese SWAT team and patrol boat appear, and they lock down the area. LUSTY’s Captain pays a call on ours, asking what time we’re getting underway and if there’s anything they can do. One hour and 45 minutes later, we’ve got all but six Sailors aboard who were headed to the other side of the island and we’re taking in all lines. On the way out, we pass ILLUSTRIOUS at the quay wall, and she renders honors to us. She also collected our missing six Sailors, put them up aboard overnight, and brought them out to us the next day.
After the sea detail, everyone’s watching the news and talking. Come to find out that the phone calls the port captain made turned on the whole city for us. The police were sweeping the city to locate our Sailors and tell them to get back to the ship. The TV stations were broadcasting messages in English publishing the recall. A pair of Sailors on the sidewalk had a cab pull up and the driver tells them they have to get back to the ship and he’ll give them a ride. The Sailors don’t believe the cabbie, so the cabbie tells them to go into a café and check out the TV. The Sailors go in, take one look at the TV and head for the cab. For the ride to the ship, the cabbie leaves the meter off.
A few days later, we’re languishing in our box off Augusta Bay. I’m TAO and the OOD asks me to come to the bridge because he’s got a small Italian merchant on the port bow that’s going to cross our bow at about 5kyds. OOD makes his report to the Captain, who comes to the bridge and sits down in the Big Chair to monitor the passage. The merchant gets two points off the port bow and takes a hard right turn towards us. The Captain practically hits the overhead jumping out of his seat and almost yelling, “MOBOARD!” Three minutes later it’s clear the merchant’s going to pass down our port side just outside of 1kyds. Hails on the BTB go unanswered, but the merchant maintains his course, speed and CPA. We figure maybe it dawned on him late that he was cutting across our bow and he was the give way vessel. The Captain, OOD, and I all have our eyes glued to our binos watching him as he passes down our port side – and dips his ensign.