ABOARD USS BOXER -- As the ship steamed across the Pacific Ocean March 17, Marines and Sailors in full dress uniform gathered on the aircraft elevator outside the hangar deck to render final respects to 17 former servicemembers during a burial at sea.
Committal services are conducted aboard U.S. Naval vessels for active duty, retired, honorably discharged veterans and their family members, according to the Naval Historical Center. This one, however, was special for two members of the funeral detail.
Sergeant Christopher Fisher carried the receptacle containing his father?s ashes during the service, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Edwin Martin did the same for his grandfather. Both Fisher and Martin serve with Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
The committal service aboard the USS Boxer called for an enlisted member to hand carry each receptacle containing cremains to a table and place them near the U.S. flag that lay draped across a tilt board. Six flag bearers surrounded the table and lifted the board at one end sending each receptacle into the ocean.
While a firing squad rendered a 21-gun salute, a scripture, committal, prayer and benediction were also read, followed by the playing of taps and the encasing of the U.S. flag.
?The whole thing was pretty emotional, especially while they played the music,? said Seaman Corey Draper, religious planner, Ship Chaplain?s Office. ?I?ve never witnessed anything like that before. I was emotional even though I didn?t personally know any of them.?
Draper was a flag bearer during the procession and couldn?t help but feel affected by the solemn occasion, he said.
For others, it marked the end of a journey.
Fisher began preparations for the military burial of his father, retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Ray, more than a year ago, after learning his dad had cancer. At the time, his father had six months to live. Fisher asked his mother, Terri, to ensure his father requested a military burial before his death.
His father, who had served 22 years in the Navy as an enlisted Sailor, passed away Jan 26, 2000. After his cremation, his ashes were stored at his mother?s house while Fisher contacted the commanding officer of the USS Boxer and filed paperwork through Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego to meet his father?s request.
?It was a sad occasion,? Fisher said after the procession. ?It?s a weird feeling that I?ve held on to his remains for more than a year and now he?s gone. I consider this closure.?
Unlike Fisher, who waited more than a year to commit his father?s ashes to the ocean, Martin learned in November that his grandfather, Retired Navy Lt.Cmdr. James Aikins, passed away. Soon after he received approval to carry his grandfather?s ashes during the shipboard service.
?It just so happened that he passed while I was scheduled to go on (deployment).? Martin explained. ?This was an honor for me. He was a respected man and a high ranking Navy officer.?