Thousands pay their respects to lost USS Fitzgerald sailors at Yokosuka
By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 27, 2017
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Thousands of people lined the streets of Yokosuka Tuesday to pay their respects to the seven USS Fitzgerald sailors who died after the destroyer collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan on June 17.
Servicemembers, civilians and local Japanese workers saluted and waved American flags as a procession of USS Fitzgerald sailors, friends and family members traveled in a fleet of buses from the base chapel to the Fleet Theater, where a memorial service was held for the seven who died.
More than 2,000 people lined the mile-long route, a Navy statement said. The 650-seat theater was filled to capacity for the event, which was closed to the media.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley ordered the national ensign of the United States to be flown at half-mast from sunrise to sunset Tuesday to mourn the lost sailors.
Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift, who visited the Fitzgerald and its crew on Monday, said the destroyer’s sailors and the base are beginning to return to a regular routine, but that scars from the incident would remain.
“We’re not going to be over this,” he told Stars and Stripes during an interview Monday. “This isn’t going to just go away. This is going to be a long-term effort. People are going to process this differently on different timelines. Someone that’s really struggling now … another person may not hit that threshold for six months from now.”
Swift said he was proud of how the crew responded after the collision and that he was struck by their toughness.
“We mourn the loss of the [seven sailors] but it is stunning to me we didn’t lose more,” he said. “When you look at the physical damage, the force of that impact … it is just amazing. The crew needs to understand that their actions saved many more lives. We would’ve lost a lot more if they didn’t respond the way that they did.”
Swift said the Fitzgerald crew has, for the most, regained control of the ship. Sailors from across the 7th Fleet had taken over various duties, including standing watches, to give the Fitzgerald crew time to recover from the accident.
Organizations like the USO, Red Cross and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, which extended their hours and services after the collision, have resumed normal operations.
The Fitzgerald is tentatively scheduled to enter dry dock between July 6-8 where it will receive a full damage assessment before being sent stateside for full repairs, Swift said. The assessment will determine if the ship is able to travel under its own power or will need to be towed.
The Fitzgerald is still flooded in some sections, including two berthing compartments, and has areas without power, said Swift, who added that damage below the waterline has still not been fully assessed.
“The overall focus is … we’re gonna fix Fitz,” he said.
Swift said he looking for a ship to take over for the Fitzgerald and is considering vessels outside of the 7th Fleet. He said he has two candidates in mind but declined to name them.