U.S. Navy 'choked up' over German tribute

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This story, from the September 19 newsletter of the German Embassy, made me cry when I read it.

Navy officials were last week astounded and moved by a Germany frigate's stirring tribute to their colleagues on the USS Doyle to mark the two-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Military vessels routinely render honors to military ships of other countries when they pass at sea by dipping their flag, as a sign of respect. But the German frigate Niedersachsen went above and beyond this normal gesture of respect when it asked to come alongside the USS Doyle on September 11, 2003, the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US.

On this day, as the two ships approached and passed, the entire crew of the German vessel stood top-side in dress-blues, holding their hats over their hearts. And as the ultimate gesture of respect, the Niedersachsen was flying the stars and stripes from its main mast. A US Naval Officer, in an email that also reached the German Embassy in Washington, told of how touched the US crew were by the "classy and emotional" presentation by their German counterparts.

In an interview on National Public Radio's All Things Considered on September 14, Commander Bernd Kuhbier of the FGS Niedersachsen explained this extraordinary act. "When you are on a warship, you don't fly a foreign flag on the top mast," Commander Kuhbier told host Steve Inskeep. "But we though the occasion was suitable to do that, so that's what we did. We were proud to do so."

The unexpected gesture touched the US sailors, Vice Admiral Timothy LaFleur described in an unclassified email: "From their main mast they flew our flag and they held their covers over their hearts. Needless to say, the whole crew was choked up and a few tears formed in our eyes. Both ships stayed next to each other in silence for about 5 minutes. These are the days that remind me why I joined the Navy."

The FGS Niedersachsen and the USS Doyle are both part of NATO's Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT), a permanent peacetime multinational naval squadron composed of destroyers, cruisers and frigates from the navies of various NATO nations.

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I heard about this on NPR. They had an extensive interview with the commander of the German ship. It's pretty intense.


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