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Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic

The Sullivans Sailor Tells of Family Members’ 9/11 Bravery

by Ensign Kelly Harris, USS The Sullivans (DDG 68)
09 September 2021

Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Matthew Coyle, poses for a portrait on the foc'sle of the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68). (U.S. Navy photo by Ens. Kelly Harris)
SLIDESHOW | 1 images | Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Matthew Coyle Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Matthew Coyle, poses for a portrait on the foc'sle of the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68). (U.S. Navy photo by Ens. Kelly Harris)
 It has been 20 years since the devastating attacks of 9/11. 

Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Matthew Coyle, a Sailor assigned to USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), is too young to personally remember that day. However, several of his family members exhibited true selflessness and bravery at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and their bold actions continue to inspire Coyle in his naval career. 

Originally from East Flat Bush, New York, Coyle says Brooklyn is his home. He enlisted in the Navy two years ago and reported to The Sullivans in February 2021. He comes from a long line of military service members and public servants. His older brother Kyle, for example, made the decision to enlist in the Army on the day of the September 11th attacks. Many years later, Coyle felt a need to join the armed services as well. 

“Kyle joined the Army because of what happened on September 11th. He knew that the U.S. needed patriots to enlist and help defend the country,” said Coyle. “My brother’s decision and dedication to the country inspired my decision to follow in his footsteps.”

Coyle was prepared from the beginning to write his own military story. 

“I left New York to join the Navy,” he said. “I was looking for my purpose in life and knew the Navy was where I needed to be.”

Even before Coyle’s brother began his military career, there had already been remarkable displays of bravery within the family, particularly on 9/11. 

Jim and John Coyle, the Sailor’s uncles, served with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) in 2001. Thomas Coyle, his father, was a police officer with the White Plains Police Force in New York City. The Sailor described the beginning of that fateful day as told to him by family members. 

“On the morning of the 11th, my dad had gone to work like any normal day while my uncles both had the day off,” said Coyle. “I was just an infant at the time. I was with my mother at the local bank when the first plane hit the North Tower.” 

Susan Coyle, his mother, took him home as she watched a column of smoke rise only a few miles away.

Jim and John were soon called to work, to accompany their teams to the scene of the first crash and assist in the initial rescue efforts. 

“They were escorting civilians out of the building,” said Coyle. “As my uncle John walked back into the building, the second plane hit the towers, weakening the structure, causing the tower to collapse. My uncle turned to lead his team out of the building, but seconds later they were all struck by falling debris.”

Jim and his fire team were able to locate John and pull him out of the debris. Miraculously, John had sustained only a few injuries, including broken ribs and a broken collarbone. 

Susan Coyle, at home with Matthew, her youngest, watched the second tower fall on her television at the same time the Pentagon was hit and went up in flames. 

“My mom mentioned to me that all the people on the television were completely covered in ash and debris,” said Coyle. “That’s when my dad returned home and saw his two brothers on the TV. My uncle Jim was carrying my uncle John out of debris and back to the fire trucks.” 

Coyle’s father, Thomas, also left the house to assist in rescue efforts immediately following the attack. He found that all the streets were blocked leading to the towers, and even with his police officer badge, he could not get through to find his brothers.

Thomas was reunited with Jim and John on the fourth day of what became a several weeks-long effort of cleaning up the city. 

“When my dad and uncles finally saw each other again they hugged one another and broke into tears,” said Coyle. 

Jim, John, and Thomas Coyle continued their service to the city of New York and recently retired after each completing over 20 years of service. All three brothers were left with Cardio Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), a medical condition which affects breathing, due to being near the airborne debris of the downed towers for so many days. They will continue to live with this physical reminder of 9/11 for the rest of their lives. 

“Each year on that day, the family calls my two uncles to check in and to thank them for the sacrifices they made all those years ago,” said Coyle. “I visit the Ground Zero Memorial every chance I get and plan to visit after we return from deployment.”

The current generation of Coyle brothers and their proud military service honors their father and uncles. In addition, Matthew’s dedication to duty aboard USS The Sullivans also pays tribute to the ship’s namesake, the five Sullivan brothers and their sacrifice. 

The ship is named for the Waterloo, Iowa, brothers who served together on the USS Juneau during World War II. George, 28; Francis, 27; Joseph, 24; Madison, 23; and Albert, 20, lost their lives aboard Juneau in an attack during the Battle of Guadalcanal, Nov. 13, 1942. They were adamant they serve together despite the Navy wartime policy to station family members at different commands, in case one command took a hit resulting in casualties. The idea was to decrease the risk of multiple losses of life within a single family. Despite this policy, the five brothers insisted they stick together, serve together, and ultimately sacrifice together.

A guided-missile destroyer homeported in Mayport, Fla., USS The Sullivans is currently deployed with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 and United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG-21). The ship’s interoperability with the U.K., the Netherlands and additional international allies will help preserve a collective military advantage and reinforce a rules-based international order. The U.S. and the U.K.’s forward-deployed forces remain ready to respond to crises globally as a combined maritime force. 

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