Just three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort rounded the tip of Manhattan, its white profile a striking contrast against the backdrop of smoke billowing from Ground Zero. For nearly three weeks, 61 civil service mariners and about 300 Navy personnel worked day and night to run a logistics support facility – complete with warm meals, hot showers, laundry services and berthing – for hundreds of emergency relief personnel, and gave tours of the ship to official visitors. Comfort’s team of Navy psychology personnel also provided mental health consultations to relief works.
On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, three CIVMARs who served aboard Comfort during this historic mission paused to remember their experiences.
Capt. James White, USNS Lewis and Clark civil service master
(First Officer aboard Comfort during 9/11):
“We arrived in Earle, N.J., at 2 a.m. on Sept. 14, where we waited for a few hours until directed to enter New York. I remember standing on deck to tie Comfort up and smelling the smoke. Even more chilling were the pieces of paper that were flying through the air, sticking to the side of the ship and settling in the water. These pieces of paper had been in the offices of the World Trade Center 18 miles away. It was horrific to see Ground Zero burning when we arrived and it was still smoldering when we left. This was a time when everyone in the country wanted to help out and we were lucky to be able to do something. I always say it was MSC’s finest hour, with Comfort being a very visible part of the United States’ supportive response.”
Chief Engineer Steve Starr, USNS Mercy
(First Engineer aboard Comfort during 9/11):
“Sailing from Baltimore to New York is a blur in my memory, none of us knew what we were going to find. But I remember a strong connection among everyone aboard. I looked out when we entered New York and saw smoke and debris everywhere. I remember members of Comfort’s engine department feeling emotional, both a wiper and an engine utilityman were from New York. Their families were there. But we could see everyone rallying and making sure they were doing what they could to assist.”
Capt. Ed Nanartowich, retired civil service master
(Master aboard Comfort during 9/11):
“There is no better word than ‘eerie’ to describe how it felt as Comfort eased her way north on the Hudson River. We were going slow, only about four or five knots, on the last leg. There were these few moments of everyone looking outside as we stood in absolute silence. It was absolutely shocking to observe the devastation.”