Standing the Watch Alone - Part 4

5 months ago

Turning Home – Part 4

With the ceremony complete on the Canberra, the Boston turned north-west and set a course for the Norfolk Naval Base. The Blandy pulled along the port side of Canberra and began high line operations at 1:00 p.m. to transfer the World War II and Korean War Unknown Soldiers for the final leg of their journey home at the Naval Gun Factory on the Potomac River.

Once the high line operation from Canberra to Blandy had been completed at 1:17 p.m., the Blandy turned away from Canberra, maneuvered with Ingham and set a course of 270 degrees and speed of 15 knots toward the Chesapeake Bay and the final destination at the Washington Naval Yard on the Potomac River.

When the Blandy and Ingham left the formation for Washington, the Canberra turned east for deeper water thirty-three miles off shore and set a burial detail with an eight man rifle team of Marines and six Navy pallbearers to carry the World War II unknown candidate not selected to the starboard, after quarter of the ship. Here a brief ceremony was conducted according Navy regulations.

At 1:57 p.m. all of the Canberra’s engines were stopped. The body bearers brought the remains on a wooden pallet, covered with the American flag to the burial location on the ship where the Canberra’s Executive Officer and four chaplains were waiting: Protestant Chaplain Joseph F. Dreith, Senior Chaplain Atlantic Fleet gave an invocation along with prayers by Jewish Chaplain Lieutenant Nathan M. Landman, USAF, Roman Catholic Chaplin Major Henry L. Durand, USA and Eastern Orthodox Chaplain Lieutenant Boris Geeza, USN.

The six pallbearers raised the pallet and the remains, in a canvas wire reinforced shroud weighted with 200 pounds of lead and sand, solemnly slid from the ship 113 feet into the rolling waves of the Atlantic.

Three rapid rifle volleys were then fired by the Marines. The body bearers folded the flag that had covered the unknown candidate and Petty Officer First Class Welsh presented it to the Executive Officer, Commander Thomas R. Weschler.

With the wind snapping the service flags near him, Corporal Len Kucharski, Marine Corps Detachment, watched the ceremony with an 18-year old heart thinking “Is this the end we all face? Is this the way it ends – alone? - buried without family or friends.”

At 2:18 p.m. the burial at sea ceremony ended with Seaman James W. Howard performing the solitary and mournful sound of taps on his bugle. While his mortal remains were given to the ocean, his memory and sacrifice would live on forever in the polished marble of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

The other Unknown Soldier shares the deep and vast and silent tomb with a myriad, the sea dead of the ages; the dead remembered and unremembered of many lands. Under sod or sea, soldier, sailor, airman they will never be alone, they who rest in honored glory, known or known but to God.”[1]

The Blandy escorted by the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham passed the Chesapeake light ship at 3:07 p.m. and entered the greenish inland waters marked by a black and white buoy at 3:40 p.m. on course up the Bay to the Potomac River. Later at 8:42 p.m. the Blandy dropped anchor in eleven fathoms of the brownish green waters near Piney Point Light.

The next morning, Tuesday May 27th the two ships hauled in their anchors and steamed up the Potomac past Mount Vernon at 11:19 a.m., where they rendered appropriate honors to General Washington in accordance with Naval Regulations. At 12:35 p.m. the Blandy eased alongside Pier 1 of the Navy Yard and secured for the night. Ceremonies welcoming home the World War II and Korean War Unknown Soldiers were scheduled to commence the next day, On Wednesday May 28th at 9:30 a.m. the caskets of the World War II Unknown and the Korean War Unknown Soldiers with the World War II Unknown Soldier in the lead were carried down the gang plank to American soil once again. An honor guard of all the services waited on the dock to accept the remains and solemnly escort these unknown Americans to the Capital of their country.

The Blandy had completed her mission and brought America’s sons home.

Petty Officer Third Class Tom Spivey, an 18-year-old fireman on the Blandy remembers that “It was a humbling honor to escort the remains of the unknown service man in that flag draped casket” and considers it his most memorable moment in the service with the Navy.

Mr. Spivey’s friend and shipmate, Petty Officer Third Class Fireman Thomas DeMichele had similar feelings:

” I have an uncle who fought in World War II and came back alive and to think this soldier could be responsible for his safe return. It’s sad they couldn’t find a name or family connection to this soldier, but coming back as an unknown soldier means we all can claim him as part of our family and remember him with prayers on this 100th anniversary of his resting place. God bless all who served and gave their lives for the United States of America.”

Respect, brotherhood, honor and devotion were given to each and every unknown. Unselected or selected the remains of each American were never left alone – there was always a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine standing watch – sometimes standing alone – at a grave site, in a mortuary, on a ship or a plane an American stood guard. They may have died alone on the battlefield, but America would not forget their sacrifice and would remember them always. Corpsman Charette did not hesitate to put his life on the line for his fellow countrymen. The brotherhood in his heart exploded in spontaneous acts of courage. No one told Charette to cover the wounded man’s body – he demonstrated without hesitation the thread that runs through men when bullets snap past their heads – this thread of loyalty and love of fellow Americans was there on that cold day in Korea as it was on that early spring day in 1775 on a town green in Lexington Massachusetts. Men rose for their fellow Americans in every war. For every Lexington there was a Concord bridge in American history. From that day on April 19, 1775 Americans have put on the uniform to ensure that “all men are created equal” and those inalienable rights shall not perish from this land. As President Lincoln said in his memorable “electric cord speech” on July 10, 1858 commemorating the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

They – the fallen, defending “these truths” are the form and face of America’s hopes and dreams; the principles and values for which they gave their lives, is the electric cord that connects each American to each other and to every patriot grave. An article of faith, embraced by every Tomb Guard is that, “A soldier never dies until he is forgotten, Tomb Guards never forget”. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents these immutable truths. It has stood the test of time and the passing of generations. As long it stands, Americans all, will never forget, and America will endure. This story is a quintessential part of America’s history issuing out of the very soul of America as it is embraced by succeeding generations. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier continues to remain a place to mourn, to express gratitude and pride in those that have sacrificed all; to reflect upon being an American; and it remains the one place where all of America comes together.

This continuity of devotion and duty is an unbroken chain demonstrating America’s unshakeable commitment to never forget those who have and will answer our Country’s call in time of need. That sacred duty and mutual commitment of every American is symbolically repeated day after day at Arlington at the changing of the guard when the Relief Commander orders the Sentinel to “Pass on your orders” to which the Sentinels complete the unbroken chain with: “Post and orders remain as directed.”

“Orders acknowledged.”

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[1] R. K. T. Larson Virginia Pilot Managing Editor

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