Local Navy crewman recalls that fateful day

Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Sep 07, 2011 - 04:37 PM

Gloucester resident William "Todd" Coxe, a sailor deployed aboard an aircraft carrier, was eagerly awaiting a homecoming when the fateful events of Sept. 11, 2001 unfolded.

Departing for this mission in April 2001, he had left behind a wife of less than a year, a 16-month-old and was about to miss the birth of his middle son that August.

Coxe, a sailor attached to an E-2C Hawkeye squadron, was expecting the remainder of his deployment to be a pleasure cruise. "We had been all over the Med (Mediterranean) Sea, with stops to Naples, Cannes, Lisbon and Palma," Coxe said. "We were in the Persian Gulf at (that) point, and were looking forward to the possibility of hitting Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro."

However, the sailors quickly found out that this was just not to be.

"I was working down in the laundry area of the ship running night shift," Coxe said. "I had been working the flight deck and repair, but it was my time to rotate." The crew, he said, has access to the basic live feed on CNN and a couple of other channels. He said the movie channels were showing reruns that day and most of the time his work superseded watching television.

It was business as usual on board the ship, until the first hint something was awry came with a fellow shipmate running down a passageway.

"Wondering what the panic was about, I opened the door," Coxe said. People were running into various rooms, he said, and someone asked him if he had the news on. "I turned it on seconds before watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center."

"Shock. Disbelief. Worry," described his feelings at that moment, he said.

At the time, his family lived in Norfolk, just off Tidewater Drive and Interstate 64. "I was worried because of Norfolk’s size and ability to be a target," Coxe said. "I tried to e-mail my bride, but received error message after error message."

Then, he felt the ship shake violently. "Being just below the fantail and above the screws, we felt every bit of those reactors pushing power as fast and hard as it was demanded." He said what wasn’t welded or tied down was in the air and on the floor. "The walls leaned," Coxe said. "And our plans and destinations had changed … but where?"

It wasn’t long before he and others on the ship found out about the crash in Pennsylvania and the impact at the Pentagon in Arlington, just before the television feed was cut. "No longer was there contact between ship and home," Coxe said.