Midshipmen came streaming out of Bancroft Hall with flags in their hands.
They walked down Stribling Walk, past the statute of Tecumseh, and stopped. Each bent down to plant an American flag into the muddy ground.
When midshipmen and the officers who joined them were done, there would be 2,977 flags in the ground. One for each American lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
While most midshipmen carried small flags, a few carried larger flags, including Midshipman 1st Class A.J. Panik, who planted his flags around the cannons midway down Stribling Walk.
Panik’s flag was one of the 14 larger flags, each representing one of the Naval Academy graduates who lost their lives Sept. 11. Panik’s, in particular, honored Lt. Jonas Panik, a 1997 graduate and the midshipman’s uncle.
Panik was 2 years old when he lost his uncle, and while he was young, his uncle’s death changed his family. It was a toll on his mother and her parents, Panik said.
Jonas Panik was 26 when he was killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
He worked as a flag intelligence briefer as part of the staff for the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Plot, according to the Pentagon Memorial.
Panik knew he wanted to attend the Naval Academy as young as 6 years old, to his mother’s concern, the midshipman said. She had just lost her brother, now her son wanted to go into the same career.
Panik visited the academy when he was 8 or 9 and fell in love with it, he said. Stories he heard about his uncle only encouraged him. He wanted to emulate the life his uncle led.
Panik’s uncle has helped him while at the academy, especially during plebe year, he said. People told Panik stories about his uncle’s time at the academy, giving Panik an idea of what to expect.
“It gives me a good purpose and reason to be here,” Panik said.
Jonas Panik was known as the person who got into work first and left last. A.J. Panik has taken that mentality with him to the academy, he said. It helps him when there is an assignment to complete or a task to finish, he said. There’s always something he can do to help someone else.
Panik said he hopes to carry on his uncle’s legacy, although he plans to go in a different career direction. He wants an assignment with the Marines, like his father, rather than the Navy.
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Panik does carry something of his uncle with him. Jonas Panik was known to tell people not to sweat the small stuff, and Panik has his quote engraved in his class ring.
The planting of the flags along Stribling Walk is the first of three events held at the academy in honor of Sept. 11, not including those at the Air Force-Navy game. The academy will hold a 24-hour run that starts at 8:46 a.m. Friday, the time the first plane struck the Twin Towers. It will conclude with a closing ceremony Saturday.
The flags are meant to show the public and the Naval Academy community that those lost in the attacks will not be forgotten, said Midshipman 1st Class Michael Morell, president of the Midshipman Action Group.
Many of the midshipmen, although they were young or born after Sept. 11, have personal connections, Morell said.
“So we want to show everyone that this is very real, and it affects a lot of people, especially the people we’re going to be serving alongside very, very, very deeply,” he said.
When people think of Sept. 11, they say “never forget,” said Midshipman 1st Class Haofeng Liu, vice president of the Midshipman Action Group.
“So to pay tribute to them, to constantly keep in my memories, I think that’s why ‘Never Forget’ at least for me, is such a somber reminder, to keep them always in our thoughts,” Liu said.