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Ashes to Ashes - well sometimes
On one of the last deterrent patrols aboard the Key in the 1990s I participated in two burial at sea ceremonies.
We brought the ashes and the family's requests with us as we left for patrol.
The first ceremony was very respectful. The ashes were contained in a carved stone box. We brought a plank with us for the ceremony. The ship surfaced on our way out to our patrol area and several sailors went through the bridge and stood on the port plane. It was a calm bright day with a light wind and a few clouds for extra depth. Participating in the ceremony made you feel very small in that great big blue ocean under a never ending heavenly sky. During the ceremony when the time was right we released the stone box and watched it respectfully slide down the plank and into the briny deep. Unfortunately, the second ceremony did not go as well...
We performed the second ceremony after surfacing for the last time on the way back into port after a long patrol. No one wanted to slow down for a burial at sea. Everyone was ready to go home. There wasn't a lot of wind so we turned the ship into the waves and put the life lines up on the missile deck. It was a partly cloudy late afternoon as we performed the last wishes of a respected sailor. We even had an organist topside playing. I video taped the ceremony for the dearly departed's family.
His last wishes weren't just to be buried at sea. He wanted his ashes to be cast into the waves. The box was just plain cardboard with a plastic sack secured by a twist-tie containing the ashes. It was a rather large box about 8"x8" and the bag was filled with ash. We had to make it look nicer for the video so we had covered the box with tin foil. At the right time we walked to the edge and "cast his ashes into the waves". I tried not to film the ash blowing back into the sailors face. Though I give our shipmate credit for not making a revolted expression when it happened. We then ended the ceremony and I stopped filming.
Here's what happened after we finished the ceremony. All of us wanted to see where the ashes ended up. Yep, there they were. A great big gray mess stretching about 25 feet aft plastered to the side of our beautiful black boat. Traveling into the wind and not being able to reach over the side of the boat the ash had just fallen and the wind spread them all along the missile deck and starboard side. We weren't going to dive again and we couldn't pull into port covered in someone's ashes. We had to get rid of them somehow. So we manned the fire hoses and proceeded to hose him off. It wasn't an easy task releasing him from our ship. The ash was very fine and was lodged in the non-skid. When asked where we buried him, I'd have to say we buried him along a 40 mile long stretch of ocean. Even as we entered port there was evidence of his lingering presence, a slight gray streak still clinging to the starboard missile deck. We did what he wanted. His ashes were finally part of the sea, at least most of them were.
Cory Curtis 91 - 93 Gold & Decom Crew