Atsugi pays tribute to fallen comrades
May 25, 2003
ATSUGI NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan — A small but emotional crowd marked the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend Friday at this Navy base that lost two of its own to the war in Iraq.
As a lone bugler sounded taps, sailors in their whites saluted, and members of the audience wiped tears from their eyes, their sobs masked by the solemn music and the ruffling of flags in a light breeze.
For the community, the service was especially poignant. Lt. Nathan D. White, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot from Atsugi’s Carrier Air Wing 5, was killed April 2 after an American Patriot missile shot down his aircraft over Iraq.
And Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams, who was a member of Atsugi’s Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 115 for three years before joining an exchange program in October, was killed March 22 when two British Royal Navy helicopters collided after takeoff from the HMS Ark Royal in the Persian Gulf.
While Friday’s ceremony honored the more than 1 million Americans who have lost their lives in combat, White and Adams were at the fore of most minds.
“Each one of those men and women is more than just a number in an almanac,” said Capt. Reed Eckstrom, Atsugi base commander. “We add the names of 151 husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers” who died during the war in Iraq.
“Two of those were naval aviators with strong ties to Atsugi. We can start to repay that debt we owe them by not forgetting, but remembering what they stood for.”
In an address to the Atsugi crowd, the Pacific region commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars challenged everyone to take time out from their holiday weekend to remember why they have the day off.
“Memorial Day has become simply another day off work,” Richard Keeley said. “Memorial Day is a sacred day to all veterans. It is the duty of each and every veteran to relay that message.
“Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance.”
Keeley, borrowing a phrase from Secretary of State Colin Powell, urged those in attendance to remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who gave their lives asking for “nothing except ground to bury them in.”
Throughout the ceremony, those who gathered were given an unmistakable reminder. Every few minutes, fighter jets would roar into the air from the nearby tarmac.
“The sound of freedom,” Eckstrom said, pausing his speech and glancing over his shoulder as an F/A-18 rocketed into the clouds.
The short, subdued ceremony also featured a choir of kindergartners from Shirley Lanham Elementary — clad in the yellow shirts they wore to the homecoming party for Carrier Air Wing 5 — singing a medley of patriotic songs.