PACIFIC OCEAN --
All hands were ordered to bury the dead as USS Bonhomme Richard plugged away on its westerly course over the high seas.
A man in crisp dress whites held the ashes of his father.
Flying fish were springing from the morning ocean, their silvery flashing bodies gliding birdlike on outstretched fins, lasting and lasting. Then vanishing.
The ashes of 18 people, each represented by a sailor or a Marine, were delivered from the starboard side of the ship and into the deep here Oct. 2.
Among the deceased, five were Vietnam veterans, said Cmdr. John Shimotsu, Bonhomme Richard's command chaplain. Another seven were World War II vets, including a Marine corporal who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Another two fought in the Korean War. Another was a wife: a centenarian woman married 50 years to a World War I sailor.
And there was the father of a naval officer serving aboard Bonhomme Richard.
Cmdr. Michael Dickson carried his father’s ashes and a folded American flag, a blue triangle embroidered with white stars.
“By this time-honored tradition, we will commit these earthly remains to their final resting place,” said Navy Capt. John Funk, the ship’s captain. “In doing so, we recognize his service … so that America may always know the blessings of freedom.”
Dickson went first. He marched up to a petty officer first class manning a metal chute hanging over the side. The sailor tipped the chute and passed Walter R. Dickson’s remains into the blue. The son held to his breast the blue triangle. The flag of his father.
Walter died in June. He served as a boatswain’s mate in the Navy from 1956 to 1962. He was 70.
Hailing from Spokane, Wash., Dickson is the amphibious assault ship’s operations officer. The field-grade officer said he has seen in his career only one other sailor bury a family member at sea.
Dickson marched away. Seventeen others followed in turn, each holding a small box and a folded flag.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane Duhe carried Cpl. Magdaline DeCorsey’s ashes. The chute tipped. Duhe held the flag …
More sailors went, then a Marine.
Master Sgt. Michael D. McDaniel carried Iwo Jima survivor Cpl. Clifford W. Hutchinson’s ashes. The chute tipped. Hutchinson earned the Purple Heart in Guam. McDaniel held his flag …
The sun climbed higher. The ship held its course, taking with it 1,200 members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit heading westward to meet up with the rest of the unit on USS Cleveland and USS Rushmore.
Eighteen souls rested.