Carrier tribute salutes victim of terror strikes
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
When terrorists steered a fuel-laden American Airlines 757 jumbo jet into the Pentagon, plowing through three of five concentric sections and killing 189 people, Navy Lt. Bill Schlemmer was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Norfolk, Va.
The ship was immediately locked down, ready to launch fighters if necessary, and personnel were not allowed to leave.
"For the first 24 hours it seemed so surreal, and we did what we had to do on the ship," Schlemmer said. "The second day was the hardest. My heart just hurt, and I felt such sorrow for the victims and their families."
It wasn't until three days later that Schlemmer learned that Lt. Scott Lamana, a buddy from Patrol Squadron Nine at Kane'ohe, was among those victims.
Lamana, 31, had trained Schlemmer to take his place as tactical aircraft commander and mission commander before leaving the squadron for a tour at the Pentagon in the Office of the Navy, or OPNAV.
With the Roosevelt pulling out of port just eight days after the attack, Schlemmer said he could not attend his friend's funeral and honor the memory of the "terrific leader" who treated his crew with respect.
But half a world away, from the flight deck of "The Big Stick" off the coast of Pakistan, Schlemmer has found a way.
A catapult and arresting gear officer, or "shooter," aboard the Roosevelt, Schlemmer sends bomb-laden F/A-18 Hornet and other attack aircraft streaking into the sky.
U.S. Navy Lt. Bill Schlemmer signs a message on a 1,000-pound Mark 83 bomb in honor of a friend who was killed Sept. 11 in the attack on the Pentagon.
The bomb was dropped somewhere over Afghanistan, one of many thousands delivered as part of U.S. efforts to root out the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorist network.
"I was feeling that I was finally able to do something for Scott," Schlemmer said via e-mail from the 5,500-crew member Roosevelt, which has been launching strikes from the Arabian Sea since Oct. 17.
An Associated Press photo of Schlemmer writing the message quickly reached those in the squadron who knew and worked with Lamana.
"The response was amazing," Schlemmer, 32, said. "It did more for them than I could have imagined. I just wanted to pay my tribute to Scott, the only way I could on an aircraft carrier at war."
First, at Barbers Point and then at the Marine Corps Base at Kane'ohe, Schlemmer and Lamana were part of Patrol Squadron Nine, or VP-9, which uses P-3 Orion aircraft to hunt for submarines and for maritime surveillance.
The two Navy men flew with Combat Aircrew 10 for two years, logging about 500 hours flying missions in the Persian Gulf, as well as off the coast of Japan, South Korea and the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula. Schlemmer joined Crew 10 as navigator, and Lamana was tactical coordinator.
Schlemmer was with Lamana, whose nickname was "Lawman" in a play on his name, for six-month deployments to Japan and Bahrain/Oman.
"He was one of the nicest people I have ever known," Schlemmer said. "He never had a bad word to say about anyone, and was always willing to help anyone who needed any assistance."
Lamana, who was married but had no children, kept the crew motivated during missions that sometimes lasted 16 hours.
"I have a tendency to get 'wrapped around the axle' once in a while," Schlemmer said, "and Scott would always help put things in perspective and get me back into neutral."
Schlemmer recalls returning from one six-month deployment and stopping at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean a basing point used for B-52 bomber strikes in Afghanistan.
He and Lamana had 20 minutes to get to the Officer's Club before the bar closed, and the pair sprinted the quarter mile in a downpour, arriving soaking wet. Schlemmer came up with the idea to turn the bar clock back while the bartender was in the kitchen, making for some additional drinking time.
Lt. Bill Schlemmer, right, and Joe Reed gave the signal to launch an F/A-18 Hornet attack fighter from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt during a recent mission.
The VP-9 "Golden Eagles" are now deployed to Diego Garcia.
Every Navy aviator has to do a "disassociated sea tour" that does not entail flying, and Schlemmer chose to be a "shooter" on board the Roosevelt a job considered one of the most dangerous in the world.
Schlemmer said being on board the 1,092-foot carrier, which has a displacement of 103,487 tons, is like being in the movie "Groundhog Day," where the same day is lived over again and again.
"You just wake up every day and try to do your job to the best of your ability until you can hit the rack again," said Schlemmer, who is expected to return to Kane'ohe in the summer of 2003.
The average age of sailors who work for him is 19; 20-hour days are the norm, he said. He credited the pilots and air crew of Carrier Air Wing One with doing a "fantastic" job during the air campaign that has made up the bulk of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
"It's not easy to fly three hours to a target, get gas three to four times each way, drop your ordnance, and then have to come all the way back to the ship to (land) aboard the carrier after the entire mission," Schlemmer said.
The Navy man said Americans "would be proud of the men and women out here in the battle group."
"They are doing a fantastic job working seven days a week, up to 20 hours a day," he said. "I do not necessarily enjoy being away from my wife and family, however, this is my job, what I have been trained to do, and I take the responsibility of protecting the U.S. and its people very seriously."
Reach William Cole at email@example.com or 525-5459.