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by Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III

Capt. William Edward Nordeen was murdered by the terrorist group “November 17” on June 28, 1988 and was the brother of Fitzpatrick’s captain at the time. Nordeen is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

(Jul. 5, 2012) — [Editor’s Note:  The following is a continuation of Part 1 of this story in which LCDR Fitzpatrick had related the aftermath of a terrorist attack which killed the brother of his ship’s captain in Athens, Greece on June 28, 1988.]

This was our 9/11, and it hit the ship very hard.  It hit the command very hard.  It was like the reaction people had when we were attacked on 9/11, only it was more personal, because it was so close.  A military member had been taken out by a terrorist organization, and this was back when it was not going on as frequently as we now know it is.

It hit everybody hard.  You can imagine:  these instructors were then dealing with a crew that has just been as much attacked as it happens, and by extension, the group instructors knew that it wasn’t appropriate for them to put us through our paces on that day.  It was restructured because of the tragedy that we were all dealing with in the aftermath.  So the men put together a wreath, and it was awesome.  There was a period of the day when I worked with our command master chief, Poasa Fa’aita, and I said, “Master Chief, I want you to go down and occupy the Captain, keep him in his stateroom as you are able to do.  He conjured up a way to do that.

We had the entire ship man the rails, and what that means is that all the men on the ship are standing one foot apart from each other around the entire circumference of the ship.  We were in our working clothes, because we were a working ship, meaning that when we got done with the ceremony, we were going to have to get under way.  We had the rails; at every top-flight surface, there was a man standing one foot next to another man around the entire ship.  It’s kind-of like if you’re looking at a house and it hangs Christmas tree lights off of the circumference of the house around the roof inches from each other, that’s the way it looked with the men of the ship manning the rails.  If you Google that, you’ll see what it looks like.  It’s very impressive.  We can to a full stop; we stopped the ship completely.  Chaplain Ableson was up on the bridge, and he had the ship’s announcing system microphone in his hand, and he… [pause]

Then I called down to the captain’s state room and the command Master Chief, and I said, “Skipper, you’re needed on the bridge,” and the Master Chief brought him up.  And of course, the Captain entered the bridge and went up to the point where  he could see what was going on around him, and he had his entire crew standing at rigid attention; there were men on the fo’c’sle of the ship, which is the forward part of the ship; they were on the port side of the ship.  The captain was escorted over to the port bridge wing where he could watch what was happening.  The men had the wreath in their hands, and Chaplain Ableson began to read at the beginning of the ceremony, there was a prayer, and then we dropped the wreath in the water in tribute to William Edward Nordeen.  Then Chaplain Ableson finished with the words that he was speaking.  The entire ship was silent except for Brad Ableson talking on the ship’s communication system, and it was just dead-quiet.  We dropped the wreath, and it was engine ahead one-third.

We stayed there for maybe 15 minutes and then got under way.  The captain stayed on the port bridge wing, and he went to a place where you could see only his back.  We backed away from him so that he was standing alone.  It was a very powerful tribute to Capt. William Edward Nordeen on the 29th of June, the day that we discovered that this had happened.  That afternoon, Mike Edwards, the chief of staff from Combat Logistics Group I, had flown down and come out to the ship by helicopter.  As were sailing back into San Diego that night, Mike Nordeen turned command of the ship over to Mike Edwards.  Then Capt. Nordeen went down to his state room to get ready to leave, and it was Mike Edwards who was the captain of the ship as we came back into San Diego to anchor again.  Then Mike Nordeen left by motor whale boat with the FTG instructors when they went back in.

Refresher training is your battle problem; it’s not a deployment, but you’re going to war.  It is the final battle problem that you must pass before you take the ship into harm’s way.

We didn’t know what Capt. Nordeen’s itinerary was after he left the ship, but he was ordered to Athens, Greece to attend to his brother’s remains, take care of affairs, and then act as the escort for his brother coming back home.  They moved him with the speed of heat.  He didn’t have a lot of time; I don’t think he was even allowed to return home.  He lived up in Novato, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, at an old Air Force Base that had been used for military housing, and he had one of the captain’s quarters.  I don’t remember that he even returned to his home.  He was flown in working khakis, as I recall, all of the way to Athens.  After he left, the extraordinary concern was that the didn’t have his uniform; he wasn’t ready to participate in the kinds of ceremonies that he was about to be called upon to do.  He might have had a set of service dress whites, but we were very concerned about the skipper and what he and his family would need as he was flown without notice to Athens and returned home to Dover Air Force Base for the reception ceremony and eventual interment procession and protocols followed at a military funeral.

So the thought we had was that the skipper was going to need support; so was his family.  It was Mark Collins, our HM1, First Class Petty Officer, who said, “We need to do something about this,” and that word spread rather quickly.  That’s where the notion began to build throughout the crew that we would send a contingent to the East Coast, to Arlington National Cemetery, the last resting place for William Edward Nordeen.  He is buried in General Plot 7 Bravo, a very feet from the Tomb of the Unknowns.  He’s buried there next to Pappy Boyington about whom there was a television show, “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” about his history, who was a Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II.  Pappy Boyington died in 1988.   Joe Louis is buried very close to where William Edward Nordeen is buried right now.  It’s a place of high honor.

Capt. William Edward Nordeen was buried on July 6, 1988.

So we put together a contingent of people.  We had four women from the wives of our crewmen, of which one was my wife; and six sailors who we were allowed to send, because the ship was still going through refresher training.  We couldn’t send just anybody.  We had to be very careful about who we sent because we had to fight the ship in a battle problem.  That’s how the funeral trip came about, and the ship approved $10,600 and change for the six crewmen and four wives.  We sent one female for each one of the women in the Nordeen family.  So there were our captain’s wife, the deceased Captain Nordeen’s wife; and the daughter,  The mother of the two men was there from Wisconsin.  So there were four women in the Nordeen family, and we sent four female escorts to be with them at this very tragic time in their lives and as a show of support from our ship and, if you want to know the truth, from the United States Navy.  These are the kinds of honors and respects that we pay one another.

Mike Nordeen returned to the ship while we were still in refresher training, all within about two weeks.  He was on the bridge of the ship as we sailed out of San Diego Harbor to return home to San Francisco Naval Supply in Oakland.  The ship performed magnificently; we did a super job.

This is what began the saga for CDR Walt Fitzpatrick as it goes to the court-martial.  It was 14 months after all of this took place that the new admiral, John Bitoff, who had relieved Bob Toney, came after me and used his Staff Judge Advocate, Tim Zeller, and then he appointed my defense counsel, Kevin Anderson.  That trio set up a court-martial against me and came after me because John Bitoff was a political admiral and saw to it that I was to be removed from the Navy.  He didn’t like me; he saw me as a threat because of what I might do as a whistleblower and the positions he saw me ascending to.  That’s what began the whole court-martial thing.  The court-martial was rigged, and you know all the rest of that story.  He said that I had stolen the money that was used for the funeral trip to send people to honor Capt. William Nordeen as he was being recognized as a hero, as he should have been properly recognized…That’s what John Bitoff did.  That’s how my court-martial came about.

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  1. Dear Commander,
    The word “outrageous” doesn’t even come close to the ridiculousness of the whole charade.
    Some little man lacking in character decided to push his weight around, that’s all. And it IS all politics, at least when there are billets to be filled in the 07 range and above.
    The only reason why the system works at all is because a few competent people are actually promoted, but mostly the ones that we need are passed by or kicked-out, Billy Mitchell comes to mind.
    Look at all of our fighting men in prison now for killing the enemy, pretty sad. And the latest is the helicopter pilot taking out some “innocent” (give us a break, huh?) Muslims as the pilot is singing “Bye Bye Miss American Pie”. Me? I’d give the boy a medal.
    I Salute You, Sir,

  2. That was a great recall of the story Walt and really touching. I had a friend who was an AD Engine Mechanic rate and was working on an aircraft that was placarded for a fuel line on order and not to start the aircraft. An Officer came out and ordered the aircraft to flight and someone removed the placard. They attempted to start the aircraft, a fire ensued, the pilot left the burning aircraft against orders and the plane was heavily damaged. They court martialed my friend, who was one of the most thorough and best mechanics I ever knew. Even though he followed regulations, they tried to destroy him, he had a nervous breakdown and eventually left the Navy. It was not his fault but again, the ivory tower does have the ability to do things right or wrong to do as they want not always the way it should have been done. I met some of the best people in the Navy that I have ever known and some of the worst misfits you could find also but it’s all part of the game that makes it all happen. Sometimes the worst people get in to positions of authority and reek havok on everyone they contact whether military or civilian. They know most people don’t like them so they have to prove they think they are more important than others and they try to destroy anyone that dosen’t see things their way since it’s always about them, a serious lack of character and people skills. This Admiral sounds like that kind of person, knowing he could never be genuine, he saw a genuine person who was Walt and tried to destroy him. There are many people that don’t belong in authority everywhere and they leave a wake of destruction in their path as we are seeing in the present usurpation and criminal assistants of what and who are running the “White House” and like bulls in a China closet are destroying everything they can while the game is lasting. I hope that some day the Navy will resolve this case for you Walt and fix a wrong. There is a lot of pressure on Officers to run things the correct way and most people can’t understand the pressure that’s put on Officers. They too fall to wrongs but in this case I’m surprised the Navy didn’t investigate this to a deeper extent and I think that other Admirals would have seen that this Bitoff was wrong and would have voted him down. He sounds like he was not a top grade officer, had the stripes but the man in the uniform was not up to the grade. We know what kink of man and Officer you are Walt, you are the best the Navy gets and should have had that Admirals job. I bet re-enlistment percentages were not high under his commands and people like that should be removed from their position for poor performance and lack of leadership. As an Officer, Bitoff was a big time loser and could never have the respect of his men.

  3. Any time politics enters the military you can guarantee that heros will get screwed like LCDR Fitzpatrick and LCOL Terry Lakin.