Dark rain clouds broke away to clear blue skies Thursday afternoon as mourners quickly filled the available 750 chairs.
The Coast Guard Base Alameda crew quickly added rows of seats as the crowd grew and time drew near for the memorial service to pay tribute to Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Obendorf. His family, shipmates from across the country, high ranking officials both civilian and military, and representatives of law enforcement agencies from Alameda, Oakland and as far away as Alaska all assembled to celebrate the life that was cut short Dec. 18, 2013. Obendorf died in a Seattle hospital from injuries he sustained on Nov. 11, 2013, while serving aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche during a search and rescue case near Amak Island, Alaska.
As sunshine warmed the air, a sea of dark blue uniforms with white covers stood together while the Coast Guard Honor Guard and Band presented colors officially starting the ceremony.
“This is not an easy place to be,” said Cmdr. Michael Greenwalt, the chaplain of the 13th Coast Guard District who spoke the opening words of the service. “But it is the right place. It is our time to grieve his death and honor his life.”
Coast Guard cores values were the running themes from those who spoke remembering Travis. His commanding officer, Capt. John McKinley, talked about the type of person Travis was, of his dedication to serving others, being a self starter and a devoted friend and shipmate. McKinley spoke of Travis’ never-ending optimism and “heroic actions, not only on that day, but each and every day.” By the time Waesche’s commanding officer finished talking, his voice quivered ever so slightly, and the entire audience could feel the camaraderie that binds the Waesche crew together.
Commander Pacific Area, Vice Adm. Paul Zukunft, recalled the events of Nov. 11, 2013, when Travis was severely injured. He also spoke of Travis’ heroism, and concluded with a quote from Mark Twain: ‘We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.’ Zukunft then applauded the “heroic life of Travis Obendorf.” Soon the entire audience was applauding Travis’ heroism.
Petty Officer Obendorf died while on a search and rescue mission so that others may live, said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt.
“It is brave Coast Guardsmen like Petty Officer Obendorf that leave a legacy of courage, commitment, character and sacrifice,” said Leavitt. “A sacrifice that will never be forgotten, and a legacy that reminds us all of the selfless service that we are called to despite the challenges we face.”
“Petty Officer Travis Obendorf embodied the exemplary Coast Guardsman and lived the core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty,” said DHS Deputy Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. “We feel the pain of his loss in Alameda, across the Coast Guard, and across the entire Department of Homeland Security. It is a reminder of the unique dangers the men and women on the frontlines of DHS face each and every day. We honor his memory by continuing to answer the call to serve and to always be ready – Semper Paratus – for the challenges ahead.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Megan Weikleenget’s beautiful voice filled the service singing the song “American Anthem.”
“America, America, I gave my best to you” exemplifies all of those who give their lives in the name of service. A notion the Coast Guard Commandant echoed as he spoke.
“Petty Officer Obendorf provided all of us with an enduring example of what it means to put service before self,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. “He answered the call and embodied our ethos, exemplifying the devotion to duty we value most. We are here today to honor his life and his service, but it is more than simply looking back in our wake and honoring our long, blue line of shipmates who went before us. It is looking at the course we have set before us and the obligation we all have. To our country. To our Service. And to our people.”
Memorial services are opportunities for those left behind to remember and to heal together. In the military services, it is a ceremony where we do this as a means of honoring the manners of our profession.
“As we grieve for the loss of our shipmate, we remember that for over 223 years others in that long blue line – dedicated Coast Guard men and women like Petty Officer Travis Obendorf – have stepped forward without hesitation and without reservation,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. “They accepted that sacred trust, to place the needs of their country first, and put service before self.”
Travis’ family received his final award: the Coast Guard Meritorious Service Medal for his heroic actions the night of Nov. 11, 2013.
Prayerful notes from the band played the Coast Guard Hymn, Eternal Father, Lord of Hosts, as Chaplain Capt. Kalas McAlexander reminded mourners that the tears shed today were not for Travis, but for those who loved him. “These were tears of healing as his life was celebrated during the service,” McAlexander said.
The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute by the Coast Guard Honor Guard from the bow of Waesche followed by a lone bugler playing Taps on the pier. Mourners listened to the gentle familiar notes of “America the Beautiful” as Travis’ family and the official party departed the service.
A soft breeze ruffled the red, white and blue bunting on the stage, and blew through the empty tent. Fair winds and following seas, Petty Officer Travis Obendorf. You will never be forgotten.