Praying for 343 Firefighters of 9/11

MC3 Jonathan B. Trejo, USS New York Public Affairs Florida Times Union

Tattoo, Tattoo, lights out in five minutes, stand by for the evening prayer.

These words are spoken over the ship’s loudspeaker, or 1MC every night on U.S. Navy ships around the world, but the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) uses this opportunity to pray for the families who have lost loved ones in the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001.

Lt. Justin Bernard, chaplain stationed aboard the USS New York, poses with a poster of the 343 firefighters who perished during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Photo by MC3 Jonathan B. Trejo

Lt. Justin Bernard, chaplain stationed aboard the USS New York, poses with a poster of the 343 firefighters who perished during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Photo by MC3 Jonathan B. Trejo

“I believe prayer changes things…343 firefighters lost their lives on 9/11 in selfless sacrifice, for people they did not even know by name,” said Lt. Justin Bernard, chaplain aboard New York. “My goal in praying for just one of their families every night is to remind our crew that we carry their torch of service, and that these families are our families now. Thousands of lives were impacted that day, so we pray for one at a time so they will never be forgotten.”

Bernard reported aboard New York, September 2013. He was challenged by the executive officer, now commanding officer Capt. Christopher Brunett, to come up with an idea to have the crew interact with the heritage of the ship.

After much thought and prayer, he came to the realization that the one thing he does every day is pray over the 1MC.

“It’s something that everyone hears,” Bernard said. “I figured that would be a place I could integrate their families’ story with our story and I could do that consistently every day.”
People continue to talk about and reflect on the impacts that 9/11 has had or things that have happened since then, but this is a way to make it personal. Some of these firefighters had large families, or wives who were pregnant, and have children they never had the opportunity to meet.

“I had the opportunity to pray for firefighter Lee Fehling of Engine 235, who perished on 9/11,” Bernard said. “I prayed for his wife and his three daughters Kaitlin, Morgan and lastly Megan, who was born just one week after they laid him to rest.”

“I think it is important that the crew is reminded of the significance of this ship’s name,” said Chief Electrician’s Mate Luvendra Gosine, a Lady Lake, Fla., native stationed aboard New York. “It makes us stronger as a whole when we recognize the people who made that sacrifice for us. It signifies the importance of not only the ship’s name but also where we were 14 years ago.”

Every night Bernard chooses a firefighter from an alphabetical list and begins to do a little research about what they were doing on the day of and who their immediate family was. He uses a book titled “Collective Portraits of Grief,” which contains a portrait and a brief couple of paragraphs about each person who perished on 9/11. He also searches for any memorial foundations or pages that may have been created in their name.

Just recently Bernard prayed for Fire Department, City of New York (FDNY) Firefighter Terrence Farrell, who, like many others, gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty on 9/11. He also started contacting the families he prayed for and Sean Farrell, Terrence’s nephew, heard about how the Sailors aboard New York were praying for his family.

“I am personally writing you to let you know how much that sincere and heartfelt act means to me,” stated Sean. “I remember in 2009 when USS New York (LPD 21) came to port in New York City, and my mother took her 14-year-old son, who couldn’t be bothered with much of anything, to see and tour the ship. I can say that from the moment I walked down that gangway and back onto the pier, my life was without a doubt changed. To jump ahead a little more than five years, and I write this email as a Seamen Recruit with a SEAL contract waiting to ship out in March to Boot Camp and the opportunity of a lifetime. I am in this position because I am inspired and proud to come from a family in which service has been a tradition for generations. To see this reminder of where this journey started brings me a great deal of joy, and is much appreciated.”

What started as a simple idea to connect the crew to the ship’s legacy, has become so much more. It has become another opportunity that the Navy has given Bernard to serve his country by doing what he loves, which is lifting people up to God.

“I count it a blessing to not just be a chaplain in the Navy but to have the privilege to serve on a ship like this that means so much to our country and the families of 9/11,” Bernard said. “It’s humbling, and I’m glad we’re able to make even the smallest of impacts in their lives, letting them know that we’ll continue to fight for them.”

New York is a part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and, with the embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

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