“We Stand By You”
An incident took place at sea on 14 September 2001, just a few days after the attacks on New York and Washington.
In the time leading up to 11 September 2001, the USS Winston S. Churchill was in port in Plymouth, England, where it was moored next to the SMS Lütjens of the German Navy.
During their time in port together, the officers and crews of the USS Churchill and the SMS Lütjens had combined for a number of events in the generous spirit of friendship and brotherhood.
After the attacks, however, the USS Churchill immediately got underway to perform a number of drills while waiting for further orders.
Onboard the USS Churchill an Officer (Ensign) sent an email to his dad and his dad in turn sent it to the local newspaper. Below is a portion of that email:
Well, we are still out at sea, with little direction as to what our next priority is.
The remainder of our port visits, which were to be centered around max liberty and goodwill to the United Kingdom, have all but been canceled. We have spent every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of our time.
It hasn’t been that fun I must confess, and to be even more honest, a lot of people are frustrated at the fact that they either can’t be home, or we don’t have more direction right now.
We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening. Being isolated as we are, I don’t think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we are definitely feeling the effects.
About two hours ago the junior officers were called to the bridge to conduct Shiphandling drills.
We were about to do a man overboard when we got a call from the LUTJENS D-185, a German warship that was moored ahead of us on the pier in Plymouth, England.
While in port, the USS WINSTON S CHURCHILL and the LUTJENS got together for a sports day/cookout on our fantail, and we made some pretty good friends.
Now at sea they called over on bridge-to-bridge, requesting to pass us close up on our port side, to say good-bye.
We prepared to render them honors on the bridge wing, and the Captain told the crew to come topside to wish them farewell.
As they were making their approach, our Conning Officer saw through her binoculars and announced that they were flying an American flag.
As they came even closer, we saw that it was flying at half-mast.
The bridge wing was crowded with people as the Boatswain’s Mate blew two whistles- Attention to Port- the ship came up alongside and we saw that the entire crew of the German ship was manning the rails, in their dress blues.
They had made up a sign that was displayed on the side that read “We Stand By You.”
Needless to say there was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and we cut our salutes.
It was probably the most powerful thing I have seen in my entire life and more than a few of us fought to retain our composure.
It was a beautiful day outside today. We are no longer at liberty to divulge over unsecure e-mail our location, but we could not have asked for a finer day at sea.
The German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has truly been the highest point in the days since the attacks.
After the ship pulled away and we prepared to begin our man overboard drills the Officer of the Deck turned to me and said ‘I’m staying Navy.’”