PACIFIC OCEAN - The crew of Wasp-Class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) held a burial at sea for 25 service members and two spouses while at sea in the Pacific Ocean, March 29.
"Some people desire to be buried at sea," said Cmdr. Ray Rivers, a chaplain assigned to Essex. "To them, being committed to the sea is every bit as important as it is to be buried in a veteran's cemetery or in a family cemetery. If you believe in the story of creation and the Bible, everything was flooded and nothing but the sea remained; it is important to abide by [the deceased's] wishes. This blue and green team rose to the occasion."
Rivers says the character of a nation is measured by how it cares for its dead.
"I want to give them the service they would want," said Rivers. "It's that awe of being able to help put this together and lead Sailors and Marines to show their appreciation and to honor these veterans and their families. We could not do [what] we do today without them."
According to Rivers, no matter how many burials at sea he has done, they are always meaningful.
"It's still very impactful," he said. "My first burial at sea was aboard [aircraft carrier] USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). After the service, I went out on the flight deck and praised God with tears in my eyes, because we were able to do something extremely meaningful by honoring these men and women that paved the way for us. I still get that same feeling every time I conduct a burial at sea."
For some, like Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic Cory Keller, it was their first time taking part in a burial at sea.
"This is one of the most distinct privileges of my life," said Keller. "As Sailors, we have it in our blood. Many of us joined the Navy straight out of high school, so I feel that we are raised by the sea. It means a lot to be buried where you were brought up. Especially to me; my resting place will be back in the sea where we all started."
A burial at sea is a time-honored custom that is meaningful for the Sailors and Marines participating, as well as the family members of the deceased.
"Sailors are keepers of tradition," said Keller. "No other branch adheres to tradition like the Navy does. When we conduct a burial at sea, we are not only honoring the service members that we are committing to the sea at that moment but every single Sailor that has come before them."
Sailors volunteered to participate in the ceremony to pay their respects.
"It was such an honor to be a part of this," said Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Lacy Duke. "It's something that I will remember for the rest of my life."
There are many points of coordination to execute a burial at sea, including flexibility in the schedule and the ship's course to ensure smooth seas.
"Fortunately, we did this a year ago, so we have a blueprint to work from," said Rivers. "It really helps. This affects every part of the ship. We had to create our schedule around the burial. We did that so we could pay respect and honor the lives of those who had come before us and their families."
Essex had the distinct honor of committing not only Sailors to the sea but also brothers and sisters in arms from across the Department of Defense and their families.
Essex is underway conducting routine operations in U.S. Third Fleet.