published Sunday, September 11th, 2011

9/11 inspired hitch in Marines

Tony DiMaiolo sits on his period firetruck at the annual “Remembering Our Heroes’” World War II re-enactment in Fort Oglethorpe on Sept. 3. He joined the Marines after 9/11.
Tony DiMaiolo sits on his period firetruck at the annual “Remembering Our Heroes’” World War II re-enactment in Fort Oglethorpe on Sept. 3. He joined the Marines after 9/11.
Photo by Alex Washburn.
September 11, 2001, remembered

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BY THE NUMBERS

6,204: American military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

141: Military women killed.

2,300: American contractors killed.

1,192: Foreign coalition forces killed.

18,678: Iraqi and Afghan security forces killed.

41: Number of veterans buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery who served in the military since 9/11.

102,339: Minimum number of Iraqi civilians killed, including by other Iraqis, according to Iraq Body Count.

144,000: Service members in both countries as of Aug. 25, 2011.

172 million: Meals Ready to Eat sent to personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

$1,645: Monthly pay for an Army private, with $225 additional for combat.

80,680: Service members treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

1,316: American war amputees.

538,000: Veterans using the post-9/11 GI Bill.

Source: New York Times News Service

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Tony DiMaiolo was in the shower when he heard a knock on the bathroom door. It was his sister.

That Tuesday morning, he was getting ready for class at the University of Memphis. Wearing only a towel, he stepped out to see what she wanted.

"You're not going to believe this, but a plane just hit one of the World Trade Center towers," she told him.

Staring at the TV, the siblings watched as the second plane slammed into the other tower.

"Oh my God, it is just like Pearl Harbor," DiMaiolo remembers thinking. "We're seriously going to go to war with somebody."

The then-18-year-old history buff and Chattanooga resident for the past five years was not quite sure about college and was leaning toward the military anyway, so he called up an Army recruiter friend within days.

"I told him, 'You know what's happened, and I know what's about to happen. Let's talk about what my options are,'" DiMaiolo said.

But cooler heads prevailed. DiMaiolo's parents urged him to finish at least the semester if not his first year at college. He relented. But the desire remained.

Midway through his second semester, he started talking with a buddy who'd just returned home from Marine Corps boot camp.

DiMaiolo figured the Marines would give him the best training if he were to deploy to Afghanistan or anywhere else.

As President George W. Bush prepared the nation for war in Iraq, DiMaiolo decided there wasn't any time to waste.

"I didn't really know how long it was going to last," he said. "If it was just going to be a year, I wanted to be a part of it."

He signed the papers and shipped off to Parris Island, S.C. -- one of the Marines' two boot camp locations -- on March 26, 2003.

Every day of those 13 weeks in the swamp, drill instructors pounded 9/11 into the recruits' heads. DiMaiolo estimated that, for 80 percent or more of the men in his platoon, 9/11 was a major factor in their decision to join.

He deployed with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Iraq in August 2005. While overseas he supervised fueling for scores of units in and around the Al Asad Air base in the western province of al-Anbar -- the site of intense fighting in late 2005.

Insurgents conducted random mortar attacks on the "fuel farm," a grouping of two dozen 20,000-gallon fuel bladders used to keep military vehicles running.

One day, an errant rocket strike slammed into the fuel farm. DiMaiolo remembers an explosion, a fireball and Marines rushing to shut down fuel lines.

"It was a smokestack. By the time they hit it, they knew they'd hit something," he said. "We just heard a huge explosion and saw a ball of flames."

No one was killed or injured in the attack, but the blast destroyed five fuel bladders, he said.

DiMaiolo came home in March 2006 and finished his time in the Marines the next year.

Now a 28-year-old mechanic for the Chattanooga Ducks -- a military vehicle tourist excursion on the Tennessee River -- the Chattanooga resident sometimes questions if it was all real.

"You think, 'Did I really go and do those things? Did this really happen?'"

Moving into a new house recently, he pulled out a copy of the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Sept. 12, 2001, edition and memories came flooding back.

"Honestly, looking at it again made me want to go and do it all over again," he said.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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sandyonsignal said...

Thank you, Mr. DiMaiolo, you are a true patriot. Your story is familiar to me. My cousin's brother-in -law, Sgt. Bill Cahir, joined the USMC for the exact same reason. He lived in Boston and worked for a while as an aide to Sen. Kennedy. He was a journalist and when 9-11 happened, he was affected by the loss of so many and their connection to Boston.
He decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and was almost to old to do so. The cut off is 32 and he was near it. In the Marine Corps bootcamp, he was the oldest one and the young Marines called him "Grandpa Marine". Only 32, heh.

Bill Cahir served two tours of duty in Iraq, including the Battle for Fallujah. In 2009, he was deployed to Afghanistan. He married and his wife was pregnant with twin girls, when he was shot in the neck by sniper fire in Helmand Province. He died August 13, 2009 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was due home in October and planned to retire. His daughters were born in December. The sadness lingers, he was a great man who gave his all for our country. We will always remember his service. Thank you for serving our nation, too.

September 11, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

Thank you, Tony DiMaiolo, for serving our counrty. May God bless you and ALL servicemen and women and who ever served always.

September 11, 2011 at 12:34 p.m.
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