By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Stuart B. Phillips, Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens spoke at a ceremony honoring fallen service members at the Tidewater Veterans Memorial in Virginia Beach, Va. on May 25.
The ceremony was attended by the mayor of Virginia Beach, William Sessoms, veterans, service members, family members and residents of the Hampton Roads area.
Before introducing MCPON, Sessoms spoke about the long history between the region and military.
"Here in Virginia Beach, we place great value on our long and proud connection to the armed services and their members, who are so much a part of the community and our lives," said Sessoms. "We do not take for granted that they are standing watch all around the world to protect us and our homeland."
MCPON spoke about the significance of Memorial Day and what it means to honor those who have died serving their country.
"On this very special day, it is so humbling to see the citizens of our nation take a knee and bow their heads as we all pay tribute and give thanks to our fallen heroes," said Stevens.
Stevens, who spent 15 of his 32 years in the Navy living in the Hampton Roads area, shared personal stories of friends and shipmates he has lost, to include his former roommate, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Butch, who was killed in a helicopter crash in the Arabian Gulf Sept. 14, 1991.
"You would think that after 24 years that memory would fade, but to this day, nothing tugs at my heart like the sound of taps at a military funeral," said Stevens.
Stevens told the audience he remembers standing on the sea wall at Norfolk Naval Station watching the battleship USS Iowa (BB 61) coming through the channel after losing 47 of its Sailors due to an explosion in one of its gun turrets. He also reminded them of the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) in 2000, and of Operation Red Wing in 2005, when the special operations community lost 19 members in one day.
"Although these events and events like them are accompanied with extreme hardship and mourning, it is these tragedies that have helped form the extraordinary bond that exists between the citizens of Hampton Roads and the United States military," said Stevens. "These were your loved ones, your neighbors and your friends."
As he finished his remarks, Stevens paraphrased a quote from a speech given in 1868 by Congressman James Garfield, who went on to become the twentieth president of the United States. At the time, Garfield was speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Decoration Day - a name later changed to Memorial Day.
"If silence is ever golden," said Stevens, "It is only beside the graves of the men and women whose lives were more significant than can be conveyed by words and whose deaths were a poem, the music of which can never be sung."