Seabees in Sicily renew forlorn memorials to Sigonella base crash victims
Stars and Stripes November 9, 2023
Navy Seabees’ efforts to restore and rededicate roadside memorials in Sicily that honor sailors killed near Naval Air Station Sigonella also may help keep other service members alive.
The three memorials to five sailors killed decades ago are a potent safety reminder, Petty Officer 1st Class Monica Cervantes said.
“It brings back the realism of driving … especially under the influence, out here at night and the dangers of it,” said Cervantes, a Seabee attached to Sigonella’s public works department.
On Nov. 3, new crosses were installed and the memorials were cleaned. Plaques with the sailors’ names will be added later, she said.
One refurbished memorial is dedicated to three Seabees who died March 27, 1989, when a tire on their truck blew out. The others remember a Seabee killed in a motorcycle crash on his way to work in the late 1990s and a sailor who died Nov. 11, 1998.
Cervantes said she and fellow 1st Class Association Seabees were inspired to fix the remembrance sites after learning that they had been forgotten.
Maintaining the memorials had been a Seabee tradition until about 10 years ago, she said, adding that she didn’t know why it stopped.
It took about four months to locate the memorials, seek needed permissions, build crosses and gather other materials, Cervantes said. She said the association spent about 340 euros on the project.
The Seabees hope to revive the tradition of maintaining the memorials as part of annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day observances. They also plan to eventually memorialize other sailors killed in traffic crashes near the base, Cervantes said.
Veterans who served at Sigonella submitted names of sailors they knew who had died on area roads.
That response created a feeling of responsibility among association members to let those veterans know that “we have your back” and will make sure the sailors they served with are remembered, Cervantes said.
Servicewide, 43 sailors died in crashes involving cars, motorcycles or other private vehicles during fiscal year 2023, which ended Sept. 30, according to data from the Naval Safety Command.
That’s an increase of 43% from 2022, when 30 sailors were killed. It’s also higher than the 36 who died in 2021, the data show.
Sigonella lost at least four sailors to traffic accidents in 2021, including a single-vehicle crash in September that killed Petty Officer 3rd Class Racquel Amanda Johnson and Seaman Darica Shunte Lashae Slaughter.
Those deaths prompted base officials to heighten scrutiny of dangerous driving and rules violations, Stars and Stripes reported at the time.