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UST Student, Veteran Shares Sept. 11 Experiences

The University of St. Thomas hosted a somber salute to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Friday, Sept. 10. The student-organized event, “9-11: Never Forget,” paid tribute to nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks, their families and the many service members who have served their country since that day.

At the event, United States Army Sgt. Kenneth Depew, a UST sophomore political science major, shared his experiences at the Pentagon immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. Following Depew’s speech, members of the tearful audience placed nearly 3,000 American flags representing the victims of Sept. 11, in the shape of a cross in the grass in front of the Chapel of St. Basil.

Immediately After Sept. 11
When the plane struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, Depew was a member of the Third United States Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, which is widely known for the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Army Silent Drill Platoon, and the caisson platoon which rides the horses that pull the caskets of the fallen. He later served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Purple Heart Medal and numerous military awards and decorations.

“As we arrived back at the barracks the buzz of intense and serious labor was occurring, we were greeted off the bus with the proclamation that 'We are at war, they flew planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York!'” Depew said in his speech. “We looked towards the direction of the Pentagon, and over the trees could see a thick plume of black smoke rising behind the lush green leaves of the trees. The confusion remained as we reacted to the Firing Party platoon sergeant yelling with his thick New England accent to, ‘go to the arms room and get your weapons, we’re at war.’"

“We did not know who, just they; we did not know why, they just did. We were told to turn in our cell phones because we couldn’t tie up the lines, we would get a chance to call our families later and let them know that we were okay. We were ordered to guard the base, stand the wall in case there was an attempt to assault our base; we had yet to find out that there would be no ground assault.

“Our Lieutenant told us we would be going to the Pentagon in one hour, go get your packs, make sure you bring your shovel and flashlight; we are going into the building,” Depew said in his speech. “Someone had a radio that he had tuned into the President as he spoke to the nation and told us, ‘our way of life, our very freedom came under attack.’ We also heard that what had happened was planned by a guy in a cave in Afghanistan who promised 100 days of terror would follow.”

“We were tasked to go inside and rescue or recover anyone who remained in the building,” Depew said. “We went in and saw the charred black walls, collapsed ceilings, small flames and glowing embers, desks which appeared to be untouched, singed papers; but it was the smell that was the most disturbing. If we found someone alive we were to get the medics from the fire department, if we found someone dead, we were to notify the casualty recovery team who would bring them out. Over the next few days we focused on cleanup and recovery, sorting pieces of building and plane into separate piles. Our days continued like this until October the 4th.

Since conducting operations at the Pentagon, Depew has been deployed to Baghdad, Iraq two times as an Infantryman. While there, he saw the United States return control of the Iraqi government to the Iraqi people, saw the first election in Iraq in more than half a century, saw the Iraqi people pass a referendum on their constitution, and saw them become a self-governing nation. He most recently returned from Afghanistan, where he was a Human Intelligence collector in one of the most volatile areas in the country, Kunar Province.

Tribute to the men and women who have served since that time

“The events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought to the forefront of our consciousness the well deserved recognition of the heroes of America: the Police, the Firefighters, the first responders, and the members of the U.S. Military who have been ordered to war in defense of our country. Whether one agrees with the reason or manner of execution of the wars we currently fight, let us not forget that the Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coastguardsmen are not the makers of policy, but merely the implementation of policy, they are apolitical.

The University of St Thomas has a rich contribution from the military. In addition to the President, Dr. Robert Ivany, being a retired Major General in the Army, there are slightly less than 100 student-veterans here obtaining their education and bettering themselves. Some veterans joined before Sept.11, 2001, some after; some have deployed overseas, some have not; regardless, they all volunteered to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies.

As a city, Houston is the biggest per-capita contributor to the armed forces. Texas is the home of the largest Army installation, as well as two other Army post, three Air Force bases, a Naval station and multiple coast Guard facilities as well as many reserve component installations representing all branches of the armed services.

Let us take the chance to recognize the contributions the military makes to the freedoms we enjoy everyday, and let us not forget those who are currently serving and those that have served.

Remembrance of the events of that day and those lost
“It is my sincere hope that our children and grandchildren never have to experience what we did on that day nine years ago; that they never have to face the tragedy, the shock, the uncertainly and the fear that we did,” Depew said in his speech. “I know we have all heard our parents and grandparents speak of significant events and where they were when they occurred; I am sure we will end up telling our children and grandchildren where we were when the events of that day unfolded.

“We cannot live in that day forever, but to forget it would be a tragedy of its own. To forget the sense of unity we felt as Americans; to forget the renewed sense of purpose and life we felt for the days, weeks and months following the attacks; to forget the fact that we didn’t blame or seek reprisal against a population as a whole but only against those who were tied to the act itself. If we forget, we are allowing the 2,977 who died that day to have perished in vain, and I am sure we all agree that they deserve our commitment which can best be shown through our remembrance of them. They were rich and poor; old and young; white, black, Hispanic, Asian; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, agnostic. They were representative of who we are as a nation; a harmonious mix of wealth, age, race, religion and beliefs. They were also mothers and fathers; sons and daughters, and husbands and wives.

“They were people who met their end in a manner that now cannot be changed, but God willing prevented in the future. Let us look to our families and appreciate them as fully as possible. Let us look at our life and realize it is finite. Let us remember those who are no longer able to look at theirs.”

The campus event was organized by UST students Brien O’Donal and Stephanie Hernandez, and was sponsored by the Office of Veteran Affairs, Campus Programming Council and Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society. The national anthem was sung by UST students Ashley Worhol and Brittany Llagostera.

Read a complete transcript of Depew’s speech. Read Depew’s complete biography.