On episode 38, I recounted the heart-wrenching mishap I witnessed on deployment when an S-3 Viking crashed immediately following a catapult launch. The two-man crew, both air wing friends of mine, perished.
The tragedy dealt a blow not only to those of us on the ship but to the larger Viking community. One podcast listener, who himself flew S-3s at the time, wrote to relate the ceremony for the fallen held back in Jacksonville, FL where the mishap squadron was based. He recounted how the solemn words of the air wing commander, spoken at the ceremony aboard ship, were retold for those in attendance back home.
After a brief internet search, the air wing commander’s remarks were found and are shared here as a testament to the hazards military aviators face, and the bonds we all share in this tumultuous calling.
It is an honor to speak to you on behalf of our fallen comrades. Today we celebrate their life and legacy, their commitment and dedication to principles that you and I hold dear, and many, many wonderful memories. As I think of Mat and Mike in the spirited and compressed lives that we lead at sea, I am reminded of the words of Lord Byron when he wrote that the “days of our youth were the days of our glory.”
These were gentlemen of impeccable character, honor, and youthful vitality; both were noble officers of courage and outstanding repute. They loved God, country, and our Navy, and I had the pleasure of their company. The privilege that I have had, and now the burden that I carry, has been the charge to guide them, lead them, and return them home to their loved ones. I have asked for the opportunity to speak to you this evening not only to give this testimonial on behalf of my colleagues, but also to offer my profound admiration and gratitude to the families who shared their sons, their husband, and their fiancé, with us.
Today is especially difficult for me, because Mat’s father taught, led, and shepherded my peers and friends. Today, I am reminded of all that his father had done for me with his example, dedication, and self-less service to this family that you and I belong and hold dear. Whether you realize it, sense it, or understand it completely, you are part of a great circle of community, history, and tradition, where one generation cares for and nurtures the next. Mat’s father had done that for me, and I am charged to do that for you.
Mat had a passion for life and he eagerly anticipated each new challenge. He was a scuba diver, rock climber, world-class collegiate swimmer, triathlete, and seaplane pilot. Shawn Inman, Catbox, told me it was an inspiration and honor to serve with Mat. He always had time to look after Sailors and made every effort to keep them challenged and headed in the right direction. The air wing respected Mat for his qualities as a naval officer, his skills as a pilot, and capabilities as an LSO.
The Mauler ready room, in typical good humor, noted that Mat never wore a watch, always had his alarm clock set on the wrong time, but somehow managed to get where he needed to go. They noted that his clock ticked with the sounds of the ship, the noise of the catapults calling him to the platform, and the excitement of going flying. I agree with them that most of us will simply remember Mathew as the nicest guy we will ever meet. We know that he will continue to watch over us, just as he did from the platform on many a dark, stormy night, keep us safe and bring us home.
Mike jump-started his naval career with ten years aboard fast attack and boomer submarines before he joined the ranks of aviators, and then hunted the very submarines he served aboard. Mike was an avid scuba diver and outdoorsman. He was practical and technical in his approach to aviation, and was tops in his class. The Maulers tell me that behind his gentle shyness and quiet demeanor was a “Clydesdale,” a nickname that he earned a long time ago because his hard-charging work ethic and steadfast reliability was rock-steady, like that of the famous family of horses. The airwing respected Michael because he dedicated himself to others, and was a relentless problem-solver who always tried to make life better for everyone.
I will think of them both often in the days to come. I will think of their professionalism as I prepare for tomorrow’s combat operations and how they would want me to focus on the important national commitment that you and I must face. We will remember their gifts of innocence and laughter as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season approaches. And, you and I will remind each other of how much better our lives were for having them both here.
There is another reason why I will always remember these men and all that they have stood for and represent. In three short weeks, I will have a son. My wife, Andy, and six-year old daughter, Jennifer, anxiously await his arrival next month. I am already proud of the little man who will carry on my family name and legacy; and, I already have great expectations for him. I want him to have a passion for life to enjoy it to its fullest whether that means surfing clouds or surfing the sea. At the same time, I want and hope that he will think in terms larger than himself and that he surrounds himself with people in a community that have a sense of history, of obligation to each other, and a soul.
I don’t care whether he wears a watch or if he has an alarm clock, but I hope people admire and respect him for his skills, competence, capabilities, and personal code of ethics. I hope that they will think of him as a “Clydesdale” who always tries to make life better for everyone. I do not know if you realize it or not, but he already has a head start. You see, my wife and I decided last spring on the name of our son who will be born in a few short days. We wanted a name, steeped in biblical tradition that would serve as a reminder to us each time we called him that this person was a wonderful gift from God. The reason why I will remember this day, this moment, and these gentlemen for the rest of my life is because soon, I will have a son named Matthew Michael.
With the good Lord’s help, my son will have a happy and full life. I can think of no greater act than for him to someday wear our country’s uniform. I use the announcement of his birth as an opportunity to turn to you today, and remind you that you will teach, guide, and shepherd our children through adversity and difficult days such as today. Tell them what you learned today, that a soldier becomes a warrior when he has experienced both the triumph of life and victory, but also the stinging, searing finality of death itself. Then, when a soldier is emotionally tattered, physically drawn, mentally fatigued, and he wants to withdraw to the deep, dark corners of solitude and despair, he realizes he must summon up the strength within himself; his ship and shipmates depend on him. It is only when he has experienced both the triumph of life and tragedy of death that he is a true warrior.
Sunday, many of us became older, wiser, and aware of our own mortality; we became warriors. I can tell you that when the time comes for my son to leave home, I pray that that there will be shipmates (someone just like Mat and Mike) who will help him to pursue his dreams, guide him as he faces his own adversities, and shepherd him into manhood. Now I ask that you set aside your doubts and fears, your trepidation and anxieties, and that you look inside yourself and summon up the courage of the long blue line, and join me on our combat mission over the beach tomorrow….