BREMERTON — In the days to come, there will be many tributes to honor the crew of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62).
But the simple twilight memorial service that took place on the dock at the Port of Bremerton on June 23 was particularly moving. There were no speeches by politicians, there was no choir. There was just the incredibly blue bowl of sky from which God had swept every trace of cloud. And for music, the cry of gulls and rhythmic lapping of the waves.
There were no spectators, just a small band of Navy wives, mothers, children, veterans and active-duty sailors.
“We need to be involved in each other’s lives,” veteran John Bray said.
The service — near the Vietnam War-era destroyer USS Turner Joy (DD 291) — was organized by Ashley Speirs and Symone Anway, president and vice president of the Family Relations Group for the Gold Crew of the USS Michigan (SSGN-727). It wasn’t supposed to start until dusk, just before “Taps” was sounded at nearby Navy Base Kitsap-Bremerton. But it started early because, Speirs said, “I can’t keep from crying that long.”
Seven sailors were killed and several crew members injured early June 17 when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan. The Navy identified the deceased sailors as (in alphabetical order):
- Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, of San Diego, California.
- Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco, Texas.
- Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, of Oakville, Connecticut.
- Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, of Halethorpe, Maryland.
- Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, Ohio.
- Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, of Palmyra, Virginia.
- Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, of Chula Vista, California.
Here on the dock at Bremerton, the crowd of 31 lit candles, passing the flame from one to another, each cupping their hands protectively around the tiny flames to keep the sea breeze from extinguishing them.
Speirs introduced Kathy Phillips, director of the NBK-Bangor Navy Relief Fund. Phillips spoke briefly, talking about the some 100 sailors on the USS Fitzgerald you don’t hear about — the ones who lived but lost all shipboard possessions when the berthing compartments were crushed and flooded — and how the Navy Relief Fund in the Fitzgerald’s homeport of Yokosuka, Japan was working to meet their needs and comfort the living.
Next, Anway spoke words from the heart, fanning herself with her fingers in a vain effort to fight off tears.
Then, Speirs invited anyone else in the gathering to share what was in their hearts.
Some offered prayers. Others spoke words of comfort for the sailors’ families. One older gentleman at the back of the gathering said nothing. He just stared up and away, blinking back tears.
Throughout it all, there was a quiet pride — pride that there are still those who are willing to go in harm’s way for their country and, if necessary, lay down their lives.
Speaking of USS Fitzgerald sailor FC1 Gary Leo Rehm Jr., who is said to have lost his life attempting to rescue others from a flooding berthing compartment, Navy Chief Petty Officer Erik Sinks said, “You just do it. You protect everyone else before your own self … If you had asked him, he would have said, ‘I’m not a hero. It’s just what I was trained to do.’ ”
Speirs said, “That’s the heart and soul of our Navy and we love them so much.”
Then the simple service was over. Some participants with small children had to leave. Others stayed with Anway and Speirs until the sun passed below the hilltops — standing with their candles lit, waiting for “Taps.”
“Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hill, from the sky. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”