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Fallen sailors remembered through tearful ceremony

Sailors overcome with emotions at memorial service

OAK HARBOR — Even the resolve of this seasoned commander was visibly challenged by the sight before him.

A tight-knit unit of sailors was gathered to commemorate the death of two of their teammates just 92 days after losing three others in combat.

Explosive Ordinance Disposal Mobil Unit-11 Commanding Officer Martin Beck, usually the Navy bomb squad’s proud, outspoken leader, stood with his head bowed before a theater filled with those sailors on the Oak Harbor Navy Base Wednesday.

“I am scared to look to you because I am ashamed,” he said. “Because, as their commanding officer, I don’t deserve to have men of such integrity.”

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobil Unit-11, their extended Navy family and the extended Whidbey Island community came together to say goodbye to Chief Petty Officer Patrick Wade and 1st Class Petty Officer Jeffrey Chaney who died July 17 in Iraq following an explosion that destroyed their armored vehicle.

Petty Officer David A. Hauxhurst, who was seriously injured in the explosion, is still recovering from his injuries.

The sailors found themselves in the same place for another memorial only three months after they held a service for their teammates EOD Chief Petty Officer Gregory John Billiter, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Adam McSween and Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis Ralph Hall who died in Iraq April 6.

Beck said it was only days after the service that Chaney and Wade deployed in May, but their dedication to their mission never faltered.

“They did not show fear or doubt,” Beck said. “They were confident, steadfast, even cheerful.”

Beck’s voice was shaking as he held up the men as examples and mentors for their fellow sailors. But the hard blow that the unit suffered in recent months ostensibly took its toll on the commander as evidenced from his closing remarks.

“While I cannot bear to bury another brave and selfless sailor, we cannot falter in our commitment to our brothers, our shipmates, our comrades-in-arms,” Beck said. “They made the ultimate sacrifice for each other, for their families, for our nation, for our freedom.”

The memorial service also exposed raw emotion among the sailors’ teammates.

Chief Petty Officer Randy Leppell was fighting his tears when he remembered his friend of three years — Chaney.

“Jeff always maintained an excellent sense of humor, no matter how miserable we got; how sandy, how dirty, how hot or how cold,” Leppell said. “Jeff would always come up with something funny to say to make us laugh, even when I was not especially in the mood to be laughing,” he said.

Leppell read a letter from an EOD teammate still on deployment, allowing another glimpse at his friends personality.

“Jeff had a saying - I can always make more money but I can never make more time,” he read. “He lived by this motto. His time was precious and he knew it. Jeff made the most out of every moment he had on this earth. He always had to have the best, whether it was food, drinks, vacation with his family and friends.”

Chaney came to the bomb squad in 2004, where he was instrumental in building up his detachment group from the ground up.

While known as a fun-loving adventurous guy, he was focused and hardworking on the job — a man of principles.

“Last year, Jeff told me ‘before my 35th birthday, I am going to run a marathon,’” Leppell said. “So he trained up and completed the Portland Marathon before his 35th birthday. That was one thing about Jeff - when he said he was going to do something, he did it.”

Leppell also said Chaney, who wanted to be part of one of the elite Navy SEAL units, didn’t settle for the next best thing when he didn’t get the job due to his colorblindness.

“Jeff did not do the next best thing - he did the next better thing,” Leppell said about being a bomb squad member.

Working in a dangerous environment with a small group of sailors where everyone watches the other’s back to survive, a brotherhood is shaped.

Leppell said he felt thrown back in time to the last memorial service.

“In the past few months, I had to do this way more often then anybody ever should have to,” Leppell said. “Nothing will test my resolve as speaking at my brothers’ funerals and memorials.”

But their memories keep him going.

“I am constantly recharged by Jeff and my own memories and time we had together,” he said.

“I do not understand how you guys can get up every morning,” Leppell said to the audience. “I find myself tired. I am tired of every version of Amazing Grace sounding more beautiful then the next. Make no mistake. I am not tired of fighting for the cause we’re fighting. As for Jeff, he wouldn’t either.”

However, losing more friends on the battlefield is something he can not bear.

“I hope we don’t meet here again,” he said.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Bob Zimmerman spoke about his friend Wade likening him to a bedrock foundation. When Wade was around, Zimmerman knew his back was covered.

“You know working with Pat brought security,” he said.

This security sprung from Wade’s ability to stay calm and cool.

“When you were around Pat, he exuded a silent confidence,” he said. “You could see it, smell it - it was a part of his very being. That brings security to other people.”

Wade was also a mentor, Zimmerman said.

“Before the word mentor was a catch phrase, he was a mentor,” said Zimmerman. “He was entrusted with these young sailors. He was a living example of what we wanted them to see and for them to become.”

Zimmerman also described wade as a man who managed to combine family life and total dedication for his work without shortchanging one for the other.

“He had true happiness, because he knew where true happiness came from,” Zimmerman said.

“I want to use Pat as a template for my life,” he said.

Both Wade and Chaney were remembered by Petty Officer Second Class Terry Jones as mentors and teachers to the younger sailor. He also remembered the men for the love of their family and life.

Losing them as leaders leaves a void, he said.

“Part of me was lost that day,” Jones said. “They were just good men.”

Before the sailors’ emotional tribute to their fallen brothers, Rear Admiral Donald Bullard of the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, told the EOD sailors to stay focused.

He said the memorial was to reflect, console and recommit.

“Finally, we are here to recommit,” Bullard said. “These two heroes did not die in vain. They died for something that was important, not only to their families, but to the Navy and this country. We need to recommit as EOD warriors because there is a mission and task still at hand.”

Bullard also said the sailors would be memorialized at the EOD Memorial at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida next year.

“The portions of Chief Wade and Petty Officer Chaney that made them so great, that made them heroes is here today; their families,” he said. “We must let them know that they also will not be forgotten. For without them, and the brothers and the siblings, moms and dads, Petty Officer Chaney and Chief Wade could not have done their job. They couldn’t have that support without home.”

Their fellow sailors promised the families in attendance that they would always be there for them.

Beck concluded the ceremony by reading the citations the men were given posthumously for the Bronze Star with Valor and the Purple Heart.

The service concluded with a poignant final roll call. A sailor read the roster of EODMU-11 members and each sailor answered, the room then dropped into silence as Wade’s and Chaney’s names were called out - three times each and each time no answer echoed back.

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