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In the Navy!!

If you were my vintage and attended college in the late 1970’s you would recognize those words as the 1979 musical hit from The Village People entitled “In the Navy”.

I’m not trying to relive my college years here but I thought of the song after reading this article published last week by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service concerning employment in the United States Navy as a mortician.

According to the article there are only 15 mortician positions available in the United States Navy and there is a great deal of competition to be considered for one of the posts.  That 15 member contingent serves on only seven different duty stations — Millington, TN; Quantico, VA; Dover, DE; Rota, Spain; Naples, Italy; and in Hawaii and Guam.

The article states that most sailors “know very little about Navy morticians but the services they provide and the missions they perform have some of the most far-reaching impacts of any career field in the service”.   This small crew provides dignity, honor, and respect for fallen service members and a sense of closure for grieving families.

All Navy morticians are trained and rated as hospital corpsman.  According to one, Chief Hospital Corpsman Amy Tucker, “We have to be licensed prior to coming in the Navy”.  The article goes on to state that Navy morticians possess a level of education, training, and experience far above that of most sailors in the fleet.  All Navy morticians are fully licensed embalmers and funeral directors before they even walk into a Navy recruiting office.

Jeff Hayes, who is listed in the article as the Navy’s only civilian mortician explained that Navy morticians may also have to face other non-Navy issues.  He explained, “Within my first six weeks (in Guam) we had Korean Airlines Flight 801 crash into the side of Nimitz Hill outside the hospital.  I and the other mortician were the only two morticians within the Pacific region, so for nine months we were in charge of getting the bodies of the souls around the plane back to Korea.”

Finally, in reading the article you will probably find that these fellow funeral directors and morticians are in their positions for many of the same reasons those of us working as civilians stateside are.  Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Floyd Price is quoted, “I think the most satisfying part of this job is whenever the families finally have them home and they’re able to take care of their loved one the way that they want, and to make sure that they were memorialized the way they want.  I think our whole job is to make sure that happens and make sure that brings some type of peace of mind to the families, and that’s what I like doing.”

Funeral Director Daily take:  Over my 35 years as a funeral director I served four families with a loved one who died on active military duty.  Interestingly enough, all four service members were members of the United States Air Force.  I can tell you that the service member morticians I worked with, both deployed around the world and those in Dover, Delaware, were incredibly professional and competent.  I will also say that their work was incredible and meticulous.

Finally, I mentioned in the last paragraph of the article about the reasons for working as morticians and a very big one is that of providing

Actual photo of committing Kamikaze pilot to the deep.

compassion to the families we serve.  Only a few weeks ago I toured the battleship U.S.S. Missouri, retired from duty and anchored at Pearl Harbor.  During that tour I learned of a story of, what I believe is common American compassion that I will share here.

Near the end of World War II when it was apparent that the United States would win the battle of the Pacific, the Japanese had taken to flying planes, known as kamikazes, into our ships to damage them.  On April 11, 1945, a kamikaze pilot succeeded in crashing into the U.S.S. Missouri.  A fire broke out but was extinguished by ship personnel before damage went very far.  The only casualty was the Japanese pilot.

In an act of human compassion, the crew of the U.S.S. Missouri created a Japanese flag on board, and the next morning played Taps and committed the enemy’s body to the deep just as they would have done for their own shipmates.  You can read about that incident here.

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