I have no idea how it happened, but when I was a broadcast journalist in the Navy, I was always assigned to be the one who went to record memorial services.
There were too many of them.
On July 20, 1993, the USS Abraham Lincoln was conducting flight ops at night. I was standing in television control watching this new device recently installed called “DirecTV.” Above us, the sounds of flight ops repeated.
When suddenly there was a change. A louder impact, followed by the sound of tons of metal scraping against metal.
We were a few decks below the flight deck, so it wasn’t immediately clear what happened. To be honest, I didn’t even notice the change. My friend in television control looked up and commented, “That didn’t sound good.”
The 1-MC came to life with a shout. “FIRE ON THE FLIGHT DECK! FIRE ON THE FLIGHT DECK!”
A F-14 Tomcat, piloted by Lt. Matthew T. Claar “Planet” had crashed into the back of the flight deck, splitting the aircraft in two. The rear of the plane landed on the fantail. The upper half skidded across the flight deck. The impact caused the front of the plane to shoot downward, what remained of the back raised skyward. At one point, it looked like the plane was on its nose.
This was when Lt. Claar ejected. He was killed when he impacted the flight deck.
A few days later, I remember setting up a camera on the focsle to remember Lt. Claar. I never met him, and honestly, I didn’t want to be there. I was irritated I had to do it.
I was a young kid who thought it was all about me. I was about to learn differently.
When the service started, the focsle was full. The weight of the moment began weighing on me.
My anger dissipated. In its place grew a sorrow. It welled up in me.
I looked away from the viewfinder and around at the grown men and women who face death every day. They were all crying.
Then I began crying.
Sadly, this wouldn’t be the last time I experienced this.
I was assigned to record the memorial for Lt. Kara Hultgren, who died during flight ops, again on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
And when we were in port, two pilots from Naval Air Station Alameda crashed into the San Francisco Bay, killing them both.
I remember standing in a parade ground on NAS Alameda, watching the Missing Man formation fly over. Just seeing it today still gets me.
It should get everyone.
Today we don’t honor those who served. We honor those who gave all for their service.
God bless them, and keep them.