One of the privileges that a Navy man can request, when the end time comes, is to be buried at sea. While I was on board the USS PETERSON in the mid-1990’s, I was on the honor detail when we performed the last rites for (ashes of) a veteran of World War II. The ceremony was a solemn, set on the fantail of the destroyer. Taps was rendered. The Navy Hymn was played ( we had a boom box with a recording). An officer, selected by the duty roster, read some words about the veteran and the tradition. And everything was recorded on videotape for the deceased’s relatives. This was 1994 or 1995, so there was nothing like today’s live streaming technology. When the time came to commit our Shipmate into the deep, the wind shifted. Our brother went partly into the briny — and also across the fantail. A little splicing that evening in the Media center edited the re-shot final images of the burial at sea. No need to stress the family with the ‘Sweepers’ call that was mustered up.
A burial — and a rebirth at sea, was exactly what occurred for me personally when I spent eight years on sea duty assignments with three different ships. As I continue to read letters written in my first two years in the Navy, and from time when I went back into the Navy seven years later, I see a person that I no longer recognize. I had tackled one of the most-rigorous technical skills the Navy offered, but it took trial, error, failure, and opportunity that unexpectedly resulted in a review that medically discharged me. At that time I was an introverted teenager trying to escape Arizona and a negative self-image by joining the Navy; in the Eighties, as a twenty-something stuck in a rut, with a challenging relationship, and poor job outlook, I was able to re-enter the Navy, but only in that same field that had so challenged me previously. The grass, or rather the salt air was beckoning me and I chose selfishly. As my letters from this period show, I markedly changed as I matured. When my personal life fell apart- my then wife took up with someone else, I became more callous, even cynical at times, and a workaholic. The go-to guy if something needed to be done.
However , San Diego changed all that. I, metaphorically, died again, and was reborn –while I was still on active duty and assigned sea duty. My new spiritual chain of command started with God and Jesus. You listen when your ISIC (Immediate Superior in Command) wears actual stars on his uniform. As stuck as I had been in my past lives and self-interests, I enjoy now a real freedom with my wife, family and church. My skills, passions, and commitment is focused positively. For almost twenty years, I have found that a burial at sea, and resurrection into a new life is truly freeing. Thank God.