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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Remembering 9/11: 10 years a New Yorker (Thank you Notre Dame)

Everybody has a story when it comes to 9/11. For me, I was a high school student at Chaminade High School, approximately 20 miles from downtown Manhattan. The news was devastating as many of my high school classmates lost immediate family: fathers, mothers, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. The next couple of days were excruciating as we prayed and hoped — by some miracle — that there were survivors. As I watched television highlights, over and over again, I felt helpless. I could see the smoke lingering in the Manhattan skyline from the roof of the Mineola train station.

I was angry and heartbroken but also wanted justice. As a senior in high school, I was entrenched in the college application process and thought that the best way I could do something about this tragedy was through the military. The next week, I applied for the Navy ROTC program and began feverishly researching which colleges and universities had the best program. Notre Dame was at the top of the list.

I was fortunate to be accepted into the Navy ROTC program after a series of physicals and applications in November 2001. The next month, I received acceptance into the University. In August 2002, I arrived in South Bend for Navy ROTC “boot camp” and began my dual life — one as a civilian student, and another as a Navy midshipman. A year later, in August 2003, I spent my summer in San Diego training with other midshipmen from around the country. The ROTC program was so excellent, but I ended up withdrawing from the program before the beginning of my sophomore year for a number of reasons. I had a difficult conversation with my parents and senior officers, but they accepted my decision. To this day, some of my best friends are from the Navy ROTC program and I’ll never forget all of things I learned about honor, courage and commitment — the core values of the United States Navy.

I moved into New York City after graduating in May 2006 and have been here ever since working in the financial services industry. From 2008 to 2010, I worked in 7 World Trade Center — the first building erected in the downtown area where the World Trade Center(s) used to be. From our team room overlooking the Hudson River, we could see workers rebuilding what is now the Freedom Tower.

They say it takes 10 years living in New York City to truly call yourself “a New Yorker.” The 15th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday was an extremely sad but proud day for me, my family and friends.

We will never forget. On Sunday, I spent the day with my closest friend from high school and college — Lt. Cmdr. Malachy Soller — a Navy JAG who came through the Navy ROTC program at Notre Dame. After graduating in May 2006, his first tour was evacuating U.S. citizens during the Israeli–Lebanon war in the summer of 2006. In 2007, he was involved in the Iranian speedboat crisis. His next tour was in the Mediterranean. I could go on and on about all Soller's accomplishments and service to our country through the United States Navy and JAG Corps.

Whether it was fate or the grace of God, the attacks of 9/11 were the primary catalyst for me joining the Navy ROTC program and ultimately attending Notre Dame. Even though I didn’t complete the program, it was the most important experience I’ve ever had in my life.

So today — if you happen to see an officer on campus or a fellow classmate in uniform, take a moment to reflect on how fortunate we all are to live in this country. Take a moment to contemplate how lucky we are to be associated with a University that produces some of the best officers in Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force. Their sacrifice is real. God. Country. Notre Dame.

Matthew Somma

class of 2006

Sept. 12

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.