The cremains of 34 service members from the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force and one spouse were committed to the sea during a burial at sea ceremony aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Sept. 5, 2020.
The ceremonial procedure for disposition at sea follows a formal set of guidelines that have been in place and practiced in some form for as long as Sailors have manned ships at sea.
The ceremony was led by Ford’s Chaplain, Cmdr. Charles Johnson from Mooreland, Oklahoma who was honored to carry out this request for so many veterans.
“Conducting the burial at sea for our departed servicemembers is the final honor we pay to them, not only for their years of service but also for the good and honorable lives they led,” said Johnson. “Their family and friends continue to honor their memories, but the burial at sea is like a final salute.”
Surviving family members of the deceased receive the American flag that was carried with their remains, three spent cartridges which represents each of the volleys fired by the firing detail’s 21-gun salute, an official certificate showing the charted coordinates of where their loved ones were laid to rest, photos from the event and a personal letter from Ford’s Commanding Officer, Capt. J. J. Cummings.
Johnson added, “Family members, since they are rarely if ever able to be present, greatly benefit from receiving items from the ship. I know from personal experience that families are very grateful for these mementos because it is the best way to allow the families to make themselves present at the ceremony in their thoughts and intentions.”
As Sailors stood in formation on one of Ford’s aircraft elevators in their dress blue uniforms and others gathered in the hangar bay to honor the service of these men and women to our nation, Capt. Cummings addressed Ford’s crew over the one main circuit.
“It is an honor to be a part of a ceremony like this. It allows us to take time and reflect on the all of those who came before us and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Today, we also take time to think about the family and friends of our brothers and sisters in arms.”
At approximately 10:45 a.m., the command was announced, “All hands bury the dead.” After a prayer from Johnson, the ceremony proceeded. Urn bearers carried the cremains to the catafalque one-by-one as Johnson read their names and background aloud. Salutes were rendered as they were then released to their final resting place.
A 21-gun salute shot toward the horizon. Gunshots faded with every echo as the empty shells bounced onto the deck. “Taps” sounded from a lone bugle over the silent participants and attendees.
“Even members of the crew who are not participants in the ceremony are often moved by the burial at sea,” Johnson explained. “The bond among us sea warriors is somehow truly strengthened by this time honored ceremony, since it links us in the service and sacrifice we all undergo to those who have gone before us.
Gerald R. Ford is a first-in-class aircraft carrier and the first new aircraft carrier designed in more than 40 years. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting an independent steaming event.
For more news from USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), visit www.dvidshub.net/unit/CVN78.