EL CENTRO – NAF El Centro’s Fleet and Family Support Program shepherded the second annual Bells Across America Memorial Ceremony Thursday morning at the base’s chapel. The local naval air facility joined other Naval bases around the world in the remembrance ceremony paying tribute to military members lost while serving active duty.
The ceremony began with Cdr. Adam Schlismann, Executive Officer of NAF El Centro, welcoming the attendees to the memorial service.
“We are gathered together to honor and pay gratitude to our fallen comrades. The service men we honor today come from all walks of life, but they share several fundamental qualities like courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication, duty, and integrity — all used to serve a cause larger than oneself,” Schlismann said.
Local pastor, Joe Conner, led the invocation before turning the program back to the men and women to honor those who had died during the previous twelve months. As Schlismann noted, the names not only include those dying in active combat, but also in training, health issues, and even suicide.
“I personally lost a friend to suicide,” Schlismann said, “and I imagine almost everyone here has too.”
Ten sailors dressed in their blue Navy working uniforms shared the front pew, and as their turn to read names of the year’s fallen comrades came, they solemnly, in measured steps, approached the chapel’s podium and read 20 names, pausing after ten so the sailor manning the brass mounted bell could ring in it in their memory.
The 77-year-old chapel remained silent except for the somber tones of the sailors’ voices and the ringing of the bell. As the last name was read, 182 in all, four extra bell rings paid tribute to all the other fallen sailors since the U.S. Navy first formed.
Jasmine Bailey, AD3, was one of the sailors who volunteered to read the names during the ceremony.
“I do this in honor of our people. I volunteered last year, too,” Bailey said. Bailey has been assigned to NAF El Centro for two years, but will transfer to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state in November.
Curtis McLaurin, now retired from the service, organized the morning event, coordinating the base personnel and facilities. His civilian job is like his service one, counseling families, sailors, and helping with adjustment to military life and its constant change. He said he chose the El Centro base, but after having trouble finding a home, now adds helping transitioning sailors who move to the base with the layout of the Valley towns to his workload.
One of the names read was Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan M. Lohrey. He was the sole sailor on the fateful flight that crashed in Mississippi killing 15 Marines and one sailor as they traveled to NAF El Centro en route to Yuma.
The memorial is designed to join the military community and survivors together as they commemorate the life and service of the fallen. The service also demonstrates the U.S. Navy’s commitment to survivors.
This event was not open to the public, but limited to base personnel, their families, and local Gold Star families.