NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) collaborated with the City of Portsmouth and Naval Support Activity (NSA) Hampton Roads Portsmouth to observe Memorial Day in honor of the fallen May 25. Physical distancing was practiced as part of the precautions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this did not stop NNSY from showing support for those that paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation.
This year was meant to host a full-fledged 136th Annual Portsmouth Memorial Day Parade, one of the oldest Memorial Day parades in the country. However, with COVID-19 precautions still in effect, the city had to downsize the highly anticipated event to ensure the safety of those in attendance. This consisted of a small procession featuring the City of Portsmouth’s Honorable Mayor John Rowe, NNSY Shipyard Commander Capt. Kai Torkelson as the grand marshal, a color guard, and police and firefighter responders making their way to the High Street Landing Flagpole Stage to lay a wreath for the fallen.
“Throughout our nation, citizens are celebrating this special day where we remember those brave men and women who gave their life in service of our country while serving in the armed forces,” said Mayor Rowe. “As President Abraham Lincoln said in his famous speech at Gettysburg, we’re here to honor those who ‘gave the last full measure of devotion’ to our country. And although COVID-19 limits citizens across the nation, in the Commonwealth and in Portsmouth to gather in large commune to honor those who died while serving, we are here today to honor those brave men and women in any way we can. I urge all citizens in the City of Portsmouth to remember these brave women and men in their own small way.”
Capt. Torkelson said, “Thank you to the City of Portsmouth for allowing us to participate in this time-honored tradition on this solemn day. I thank you for honoring those who gave their lives for this country and our freedom. If you look back in history at some of the great battles that were fought, one of the first things to occur at the conclusion of those battles was honoring those who gave their lives. They would come together in divine services to honor those who were killed, honoring those who gave their lives for our freedom.”
He added, “This day touches each of our hearts in some way, remembering those we’ve lost – whether it be family or friends who are no longer with us. I want us all to take a moment and remember them, honor them, cherish them. They paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom and we will never forget them.”
In addition, the NNSY Veteran Employee Readiness Group (VET-ERG) attended the Memorial Day Flag Placement Ceremony at the Captain Ted Conaway Memorial Naval Cemetery in Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, teaming with NSA Hampton Roads Portsmouth to place flags at more than 880 graves of fallen service members from eight countries.
“We’ve been doing this for about eight years and it’s wonderful to see members of our base and those with the NNSY VET-ERG come together to show our support for our fallen service members,” said NSA Hampton Roads Portsmouth Site Director Kenneth Pugh. “We’re able to safely pay our respects for those who gave their all in defense of our nation and I am very proud of all of those who came out today and each day to honor these brave men and women.”
VET-ERG President Nicholas Boyle said, “We’re very happy to be here to support this great cause in honor of our fallen. It’s a tradition that our team holds dear to our hearts.”
VET-ERG Founding Member Jonathan Echols has come out to the cemetery for six years to place flags on the graves of the fallen. Even in a pandemic, he worked hard to ensure the event continued stronger than ever. “We come out here diligently every year to place these flags on these honorable grave sites,” he said. “It’s an honor to be able to participate and assist our brothers and sisters here at NMCP to ensure these brave men and women are honored for their sacrifices. Being a veteran myself, this is a tremendous opportunity and we’re doing our part to ensure our safety while honoring our fallen brothers and sisters. Even though COVID-19 is still a looming presence for our country, we still have the ability to show respect and honor the fallen this Memorial Day. I encourage others to do their part in remembrance of the fallen.”