9/11 inspired hitch in Marines

9/11 inspired hitch in Marines

September 11th, 2011 by Todd South in News

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/Times Free Press.

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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

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.