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September 11 Memorial: Remembering the victims who died at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania

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Capt. Gerald Francis DeConto

Age: 44

Hometown: Sandwich, Mass., USA

Occupation: Director of current operations and plans, U.S. Navy

Location: Ground, Pentagon

"It's a '91 model, and you wouldn't expect somebody who could afford something else to be driving it, but he was very attached to it. He just had it painted--a little sporty stripe down the side�and put a new stereo in it, and new tires. Once you saw that Explorer you knew just who he was. There was the license plate that said FISH79--a United States Naval Academy plate. 'Fish' was his nickname and '79 was when he graduated. It had a big sticker--United States Naval Academy--on the back also. It just showed how devoted he was to the Navy and how proud he was of the academy. It was like his ship on land. ... When you're a captain of a ship you're in complete control and have complete responsibility. That's what seems to have happened with this Explorer. You saw that coming and you knew it was Jerry." -- Patricia L. DeConto, mother

Profile:

As director of the current operations and plans branch of the Navy Command Center, Capt. Gerald F. DeConto, 44, was organizing the Navy's response to the World Trade Center attack when he died in the crash at the Pentagon.

The weekend before he died, DeConto drove his green Ford Explorer -- with the license tag "FISH79," for his nickname at the U.S. Naval Academy -- to a family reunion at his brother's home in East Lyme, Conn. The family ate clam chowder, sausage and flank steaks and played badminton and basketball.

DeConto accompanied his mother back to Sandwich, Mass., the seaside town on Cape Cod where he was a high school soccer star, and left for Alexandria Monday afternoon. That night, he sent an e-mail to his mother telling her he had arrived safely. She had just opened an e-mail account, and it was the first -- and last -- message she would receive from her son.

"We're so lucky we had that weekend all together," Patricia DeConto said.

Gerald DeConto, who was divorced and had no children, stayed in close touch with his mother, two brothers and two sisters. He enjoyed sailing, running with his two dogs, and giving his brothers pointers about coaching soccer.

The son of a schoolteacher and town building inspector, DeConto received a physics degree from the Naval Academy, where he played rugby, in 1979. He reported to the USS Excel as a damage control assistant, later serving as engineering officer and executive officer. He became operations officer on the USS Fresno in 1982.

He attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., from 1984 to 1986, receiving a master's degree in mechanical engineering. He was chief engineer on the USS Hewitt from 1986 to 1989 and was then an aide to the assistant chief of naval operations for surface warfare. He was named executive officer on the USS Lake Erie in 1991.

DeConto was assistant operations officer for Carrier Group 7 from 1994 to 1997. He then received a master's degree in national security and strategic studies at the Naval War College. He was commanding officer of the USS Simpson from 1998 to 2000 and chief of staff for the Standing Naval Force Mediterranean from April 2000 until May.

He had been named recently to his new post. But what he really wanted was to lead his own ship again, his mother said: "Once they're captain, they're never satisfied with another job. That's what he was waiting for."

-- Sewell Chan

Source: The Washington Post, AP and washingtonpost.com

The profiles in this feature were written in the months following Sept. 11, 2001.

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Timeline

A day after the 9/11 attacks a makeshift memorial was created on the Arlington Memorial Cemetery fence. Seven years later, the first 9/11 memorial is opening.

Related Coverage:

3-Dimensional Virtual Memorial

Victims Remembered in Maryland

One Family's Loss

Stepping Through the Ashes

Pentagon Under Attack

Five Year Anniversary Coverage


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