There are moments in the careers of U.S. Navy Sailors when they become part of something so moving, so sacred, that it imprints upon them forever. Helping say goodbye and putting to rest a shipmate, or their family members, during a burial ceremony is the epitome of such solemn moments; hearts weigh heavy with pride, sorrow, love and respect, whether they had a personal connection to deceased or not.
While many sea service members are buried in traditional funerals ashore, some families choose to show their respects through an at sea disposition, or burial, where the deceased’s intact body or cremated remains are committed to the ocean from the deck of a Navy vessel.
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, burials at sea date back to ancient times and have been practiced for as long as people have set sail upon the seas. In these early times, the deceased was sewn into a weighted shroud, like heavy sailcloth, and in a very old custom, the last stitch was put through their nose. Once wrapped, and usually accompanied by an appropriate religious ceremony, the body was slid over the side of the vessel.
Today, eligibility for burial at sea is afforded to active duty service members, honorably discharged retirees, veterans, U.S. civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command, and dependent family members of active duty, retirees, and veterans.
Although family members are unable to share the closing moments due to the ceremony taking place on operationally deployed ships, burials at sea performed on our Surface Force ships share many of the same elements found in funerals held ashore – ceremony participants usually wear their finest dress uniforms, fire three volleys, read eulogies and play taps in honor of the deceased. If requested, cremated remains are scattered into the sea. Otherwise, the casket or urn is gently slid overboard. Flowers or wreathes may also be tossed into the sea during the observance.
Shortly following the ceremony, the commanding officer of the ship will mail the next of kin a letter detailing the date and time of the ceremony, accompanied by any photographs or video of the committal, a commemorative flag (if applicable) and a chart showing the navigational location where the deceased was laid to rest.
John F. Kennedy once said, “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”
It’s no wonder that the pull of the sea remains eternal and some desire it as their final resting place.
For the Sailors participating in this solemn tradition, laying shipmates (or their loved ones) to rest in the great blue sea is one of the highest acts they can provide as a final offering of honor for the deceased.
By: Cmdr. Emily Bassett, commanding officer, Littoral Combat Ship Crew 214, Pre-Commissioning Unit Manchester (LCS 14)
The commissioning ceremony was originally about ball caps. Before the rehearsal, I told my crew, “If you have any family or friends who will be with us today—in person, or in spirit, and you want me to mention them by name, let me know.” Then, one Sailor approached me, “Ma’am, my mom couldn’t be here today. Could you stream it on Facebook Live?” So, I handed my cell phone to a friend seated in the bleachers at our ceremony on the grass next to the Vietnam Memorial at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, and we went live. Our attendance of 50 turned into close to 500.
The littoral combat ship program has been going through major transitions, one of which is assigning a crew to only one ship, and adopting a blue-gold rotation. Crew 214 is the pre-commissioning crew for Manchester, and our identity is all about Manchester, New Hampshire. We’ve visited the city and met the city’s mayor. Our ship sponsor, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, sent a personal note for our ceremony’s program. As a crew, we designed the ship’s crest, the brow banner and the ball caps.
Now, we wanted to make a special moment out of sun-downing the 8-point standard Navy Working Uniform (NWU) cover, and replacing it with our “USS Manchester” ball caps. I would read my orders and don my command-at-sea pin.
Turns out, it wasn’t just about ball caps. It was about character, competence and connections. Capt. Jay Hennessey, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Center, was our guest speaker. To many of us, SEALs are the epitome of character and competence. But beyond that, he told us about the importance of connection — of teammates, crewmates.
He said, “Teammate. It’s synonymous with crew. It’s synonymous with shipmate. Teammate, for me, in Naval Special Warfare, is the highest accolade I could pay someone. Because when I call someone a teammate, I mean they have three things. They are a person that is trustworthy, that is competent, and a person with whom I want to serve. You can’t do two of the three. You can’t be trustworthy and competent, but someone we don’t like. You’ve got to have to have all three.”
Then, he broke with his normal protocol of handing out a personalized command coin after a job well done, after a Sailor has demonstrated excellence as a teammate. Instead, he handed out two coins, to two crewmembers, for “excellence in advance,” investing in these two Sailors, that they would spread their competence, their trustworthiness, and their desire to be wanted as a teammate by the rest of the crew.
As command senior chief and I handed out Manchester ball caps, each Sailor exchanged a ball cap for a word: a character trait they wanted to develop while part of our crew. I was deeply moved by each Sailor’s word. I heard dependability, patience, trustworthiness, diversity, leadership, empathy, flexibility, perseverance, fairness, loyalty, humility. Remarkably, there was no trait I heard twice. The executive officer and I exchanged traits. He called “Uncover. Two,” and “Cover. Two,” and in unison, we donned the cover of our new ship.
After that simple ritual, I felt a deep connection with my crew. Then, while I spoke, that connection spread to our gathered guests. A few Sailors broke ranks and handed out small tokens to each guest. They were candles, in a clear glass with a sticker of the Manchester crest on one side and one sticker of the crew logo on the other. Light these candles, I said, and remember that you are with us in spirit in the future as you are with us physically today.
Then I turned to my scribbled notes and named the honored guests: parents, siblings, in-laws, grandparents, a mother watching us on Facebook Live, and even one Sailor’s late grandfather whom he wanted remembered. I realized how deeply connected we all are. It wasn’t just about the ball caps.
For a class of ships that got their start in the Navy combating swift, small torpedo boats that could dash in close to the larger ships, loose their torpedoes and dash away, guided missile destroyers have matured and become the long-term endurance runners of the fleet by logging more than a century’s worth of work in support of naval dominance.
Their adaptability and usefulness has led to them becoming the most abundant type of vessel in the U.S. Navy Surface Force — capable of providing both multi-mission offensive and defensive capabilities, they serve as the backbone of the fleet.
Modern destroyers can effectively tackle a variety of Anti-Air Warfare, Anti-Submarine Warfare, and Anti-Surface Warfare missions. Their versatility allows them to operate independently or as part of larger carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups, or underway replenishment groups.
The two current variants of destroyers are the Arleigh Burke and Zumwalt classes.
The first Arleigh Burke class ship (DDG 51) was brought into the fleet with a bang, as it shares the country’s birthday. It was commissioned on July 4, 1991.
This class is still in production today though the original design has been upgraded through the years in order to keep pace with capabilities and technology. One of the most prevalent updates is the addition of dual hangars on DDG 79 and later to accommodate embarked helo support. DDG 51-78 only had external landing capability.
Newer ships also receive incorporated advanced sensors, weapons, and improved support systems during construction, while older ships in service undergo a comprehensive mid-life upgrade to ensure all Arleigh Burke class ships maintain mission effectiveness and remain an integral part of the Navy’s Sea Power 21 Plan.
With all-steel construction, numerous damage control features, powered and gas turbine propulsion engines capable of achieving 30+ knot speeds in the open seas — they truly are a mobile, lethal, flexible instrument of national power.
The capability of U.S. Navy destroyers will continue to admirably represent the Surface Force on behalf of American interests at home and abroad for generations to come.
Stay tuned as we take a deeper look at the next generation USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) in the coming weeks.
Whether your family is big or small, if you’ve ever prepared a Thanksgiving meal you know how much work goes into planning the meal, finding and buying all the ingredients, and finally getting everything cooked so that “miraculously” a feast can be enjoyed by all. An incredible amount of effort to deliver your family a wonderful meal — the thought alone is exhausting!
Now, imagine your family consisted of several hundred or a few thousand family members. If you can wrap your mind around that, you can start to get an idea of the mass effort it takes to give U.S. Navy Sailors and Marines a fitting feast on the celebratory day.
“Our Navy culinarians take great pride in providing the annual Thanksgiving meal and seeing the smiles on Sailors and Marines,” said Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Navy Food Service Director Cmdr. Keith Capper. “We know hard being away from family and friends for our deployed shipmates, and that’s why our culinarians go the extra mile in providing a quality meal to improve morale throughout the fleet on this special occasion.”
NAVSUP’s mission is to provide supplies, services, and quality-of- life support to the Navy and joint warfighter. With headquarters in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and employing a diverse, worldwide workforce of more than 22,500 military and civilian personnel, NAVSUP oversees logistics programs in the areas of supply operations, conventional ordnance, contracting, resale, fuel, transportation, and security assistance. In addition, NAVSUP is responsible for food service, postal services, Navy Exchanges, and movement of household goods.
Last year, for 2015, NAVSUP ordered an astonishing amount of food for commands around the world to feed Sailors and Marines a hearty meal and the service culinarians did their best with the menus to try to mimic the comforts of a homemade Thanksgiving dinner. But, no matter how good the food, what can’t be matched is the presence of family sharing the meal.
This year as you and your loved ones gather around the dinner table, we respectfully request you take a moment to give thanks for all the servicemembers standing the watch around the globe, spending the holidays away from their families, so their fellow Americans can enjoy them with their family in peace.
From all of us at Naval Surface Force, Happy Thanksgiving!
A patriot is defined as a person who loves and strongly supports, or fights for, their country and its interests. In America, some of the best patriot examples can be found in the veteran community. These amazing people stood up, volunteered, and took an oath to do the nation’s bidding around the world — even if it meant putting themselves in harms way.
To honor them this Veterans Day, we wanted to highlight some of the top attributes that make them so great!
Veterans get the job done, no matter what. They have an uncanny ability to ‘MacGyver’ any situation as necessary to reach a goal. They can quickly adapt and overcome even the most difficult situations; no matter how often things change. Even if team spirits are down, they persistently push to complete the mission.
Veterans have a sense of humor. They may have jargon-filled language and an offbeat sense of humor that civilians might struggle to understand at first, but they bring levity to any situation. Whether through combat or everyday military operations, it’s common for Veterans to acquire a quick wit and a playful sense of humor. For some, it’s a way to disconnect from tense moments or tragic events experienced. For others it’s a learned trait formed through bonding…whether they’ve suffered together through the basic procedures of boot camp or the advanced dangers of the battlefield, they understand that laughter makes hard times easier.
Veterans have the best stories, often starting with “one time, my buddies and I were…” Whether they toured exotic countries with their military friends or were stationed in the backyard of their home state, Veterans usually have a couple astounding stories about their time in service. The unique stories can cover topics like being lost in a foreign land and barely making it back in time for muster, finding ways to manage to amuse themselves during long deployments, or averting near disasters.
Veterans embrace diversity and accept brothers and sisters in arms from all walks of life. Veterans know they have, and are, fighting for the freedom and protection of every person in our great nation regardless of their cultures, ethnicities, and histories, and they respect anyone that has volunteered to do the same. They see strength in people’s differences, but more importantly they see a person’s character above all else.
Veterans know when to lead a group and when to follow. They can see when a situation needs a leader to step up, and they won’t shy away from the associated challenges of that position. As important, they recognize when being a follower would be more beneficial to a team’s success — allowing others to lead for the greater good. They have been ingrained with a mentality of leading by example, regardless of role.
Veterans believe in freedom and justice for all, and stand up for those ideals. It has been said, “A Veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The ‘United States of America’, for an amount of ‘up to and including their life.” This short statement is a great summary of the sacrifice Veterans are willing to make toward all Americans being created equal to pursue their unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
And we couldn’t be more grateful for the Veterans in our lives.
So with our deepest, most sincere appreciation, we’d like to tell all of our Veterans, “THANK YOU!”
As the U.S. Navy develops the fleet of the future, the Surface Force continues to increase combat readiness by harnessing new ships, weapon systems and emerging technologies. They also continue to build upon their long-standing relationship with the U.S. Marine Corps to project power ashore in a broad spectrum of missions.
On October 28th, five of the seven Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft scheduled to embark on board the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) arrived to begin some of the final shipboard testing events needed before F-35B detachments can begin operational integration. Moving forward, two of the F-35B aircraft are scheduled to begin the third shipboard phase of developmental tests to evaluate F-35B Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) operations in a high-sea state, shipboard landings, and night operations, while the other five aircraft are slated to conduct routine operational testing.
Sailors and Marines, along with embarked civilians and contractors, will execute these comprehensive series of tests in order to provide Marine aviation personnel with more data and insight into how the F-35B will operate from the decks of amphibious ships. Some tests will simulate extensive shipboard aircraft maintenance, while others will help establish the boundaries of safe operation for the F-35B outfitted with a 3F software configuration. As significant, they will also focus on preparing maintenance crews and pilots for their upcoming first operational deployment of the F-35B aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1).
These tests are important in providing the Navy-Marine Corps team more at sea opportunities to refine the range of requirements needed to safely and effectively manage the emerging requirements associated with integration of technologically advanced STOVL aircraft.
The F-35B is a great fit for amphibious operations, where the desired effect is to rapidly launch Marine Corps power into harsh shore environments, based on several unique design features. The aircraft has STOVL abilities coupled with a designed intended to reduce the ability of enemy defense systems or aircraft to detect or engage with weapons because of the aircraft’s Very Low Observable (VLO) stealth capability. As well as the ability to share real-time (networked) access with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground to give U.S. and coalition partners a view of ongoing operations and battlefield information.
Amphibious Assault Ships also feature aviation-centric ship design that includes an enlarged hangar deck, larger aviation maintenance spaces, a significant increase in parts and equipment storage space, and an increased aviation fuel capacity. But even the first-in-class USS America had to undergo extensive upgrades to the flight deck, interior spaces, and combat systems, to better accommodate the fifth generation fighter aircraft.
As the F-35B comes to the surface fleet the partnership between the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Air Combat Elements is sure to continue to strengthen as we work together to maintain maritime superiority and exert sea control in an evolving global landscape.