By Kerri Rempp Rapid City Journal
Twelve years ago, panic, smoke and fire filled the air, and across the country, citizens watched in horror as planes crashed into some of the country’s most iconic symbols.
8:46 a.m. Flight 11 crashes into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. 9:03 a.m. Flight 175 collides with the South Tower. 9:37 a.m. Flight 77 careens into the Pentagon. 10:03 a.m. Flight 93 goes down in Somerset County after passengers revolt against hijackers.
September 11, 2001. It’s a day that’s engraved in Americans’ collective consciousness.
Today, a Rushville native and the crew of his Navy ship are taking part in a special remembrance ceremony to honor all those who died during the attacks a dozen years ago.
Commander Darren Nelson of the USS Arlington, commissioned into service with the Navy this past spring, and his crew will join with sister ship USS New York for the ceremony. Nelson’s USS Arlington was named in honor of Arlington, Va., the home of the Pentagon in commemoration of the terrorist attacks. The USS New York was forged with 7.5 tons of steel foraged from the World Trade Center, and the USS Arlington will carry debris from the Pentagon in a display in a tribute room. Nelson said work on the room and display is expected to begin later this year.
In the meantime, the crews of the two ships will participate in a joint remembrance ceremony today aboard the USS New York. The ceremony will include a laying of wreaths from the USS New York, the USS Arlington and the PCU Somerset, the third sister ship named for Somerset County, where Flight 93 crashed.
The USS Arlington will also strike its bell 184 times, once each for those who died at the Pentagon that day.
“The crew is very proud to carry the name Arlington. Even though some of our sailors were very young at the time they understand the importance of it,” Nelson said.
The crew works with the ship’s home county, keeping in close contact with people who live in Arlington County and were impacted by that day. In fact, Nelson said, several of his sailors planned to run in the county’s annual 9-11 5K.
Nelson is a 1988 Rushville High School graduate. His initial sea tour was on the USS Bainbridge as a communications and administrative officer. He later deployed to the Arabian Gulf as a damage control officer on the USS Barry and was eventually assigned to the Regional Support Group Ingleside Texas as part of the integrated support group responsible for improving the reliability of mine hunting sonar.
Nelson’s career then took him onboard the USS Ingraham as a combat systems officer, and he completed a deployment with the 5th Fleet during Enduring Freedom. He was assigned as a First Lieutenant on the USS Saipan before becoming the assistant surface operation officer for the Commander Carrier Strike Group Eight. He then served as the executive officer on the USS Gunston Hall and participated in another 5th Fleet deployment. Following that tour, Nelson was assigned to the U.S. Naval War College, where he completed his master of arts degree in national security and strategic studies.
He has received the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (four awards), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (four awards) and various campaign and service ribbons.
After being named commander, he said an appointment as commander of any ship is an honor but to receive the post on the Arlington was even more humbling because of its connection to 9-11. The Arlington will support Marine landing forces once it is fully operational.
The ship was launched in April and has spent the intervening months completing inspections and trainings, Nelson said.
“The ship and the crew have been performing well above Navy standards,” he said, adding that he’s proud to see the level of ownership and hard work his sailors have undertaken. The Arlington should complete its final inspections and become a full member of the Navy fleet by the end of November. The ship is scheduled for a maintenance period from December through April and will be a deployable asset for the Navy sometime next year.
Nelson said support from his home state has helped him throughout his career particularly since he assumed the commander role. Family, friends, even state senators and representatives have been great about supporting him, he said.
“I always share the pride and ownership I have in being a Husker with my crew. They always know on Monday I’m going to be talking about Nebraska.”