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    Memorial Day ceremony honors NUWC Division Newport employees who made the ultimate sacrifice

    Memorial Day ceremony honors NUWC Division Newport employees who made the ultimate sacrifice

    Photo By David Stoehr | Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings...... read more read more



    Story by Public Affairs Office 

    Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport

    NEWPORT, R.I. — Petty Officer 1st Class Larry W. Fletcher enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1967 before joining the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, then known as the Naval Underwater Systems Center, in 1985 as a member of the Range Support Office.

    Three years later, on Jan. 12, 1988, while serving as an aerial spotter for a torpedo exercise being conducted at a range on Rhode Island Sound, Fletcher was killed when the plane in which he was riding crashed. He was 38 years old.

    Thirty-four men, including Fletcher, were honored for having made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country and the U.S. Navy since Division Newport was formed in 1869. All of them have a story about their commitment, but Fletcher’s only was rediscovered recently, and it was shared during Division Newport’s annual Memorial Day remembrance ceremony held on May 22 at the command’s memorial.

    “It is important that we all understand the value of our contributions to the warfighters, the fleet, the Navy and the nation, both today and in years past,” Technical Director Marie Bussiere said. “Without the sacrifice and commitment of these brave Americans, Division Newport wouldn't have evolved into the center of excellence for undersea warfare it is today. Their efforts should be remembered not only on Memorial Day, but every day.”

    Retired Adm. Scott Swift, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was the guest speaker at the event. In his remarks, he recalled the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013 in which 12 people were killed, all civilians ranging in age from 46 to 73. Two weeks prior, Swift had been assigned to the Pentagon as director of Navy Staff.

    In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Swift said he was stunned to learn that, by law, civilians were not eligible for counseling services through the Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. He said he went directly to the Chief of Naval Operations and explained the situation.

    “He said, ‘Just do it.’ The regulations, they just don’t apply. They may have had significance in the past, but they have no significance now,” Swift said. “So we did. We provided those services to civilians.”

    That tragedy, Swift said, changed his view of Navy civilian employees.

    “I look around at this audience, and I see all of you as Sailors,” Swift told the crowd of roughly 75 people. “You all serve your country, you all have focused on committing yourself to national security and national defense through your service in the Navy. Every one of us is a warrior. Every Sailor is a warrior, regardless of your rate or ranking, what your civilian job is.

    “Not only on this Memorial Day, but every Memorial Day going forward, think of yourself as being part of this celebration. You have sacrificed as much as any other Sailor, in uniform or out of uniform.”

    When Swift finished his address, he and Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings placed a wreath at the base of the memorial that is emblazoned with the names of the men killed while working at Division Newport. Sgt. Kurt Charles of the 215th Army Band in Fall River, Massachusetts, then played a rendition of “Taps” on the bugle.

    The stone marker was erected in 1930 at Government Landing in downtown Newport before being moved in 1966 to its current location, under the flag at the warfare center.

    Caroline (Carly) Diette, acting director of Corporate Communications and master of ceremonies for the event, opened the memorial by reading the names of the fallen. Following each one, Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex Hughes tolled the command bell two times. Before introducing Swift, Hennings explained the significance of the tolling of the bells.

    “It’s a time-honored tradition in the submarine force,” Hennings said. “Every April, at the submarine birthday balls, the submarine force will gather together and toll the ball once for each submarine that has been lost in our nation’s history through various world wars and conflicts.

    “Parallel to that ceremony, what we do matters,” he said. “Your sacrifice, your work on behalf of the nation, the country, the fleet and the submarine force is just as important, and it’s why we observe the same reverence at this solemn event.”

    Fletcher’s ultimate sacrifice

    A little more than a year before his death, Fletcher was hailed as a hero for an act of bravery. On the evening of Dec. 11, 1986, Fletcher, set to make a patrol of the range, heard a voice of distress coming from the area known as Stillwater Basin (now called Narragansett Bay Testing Facility). In the water was Dirk Patriarca, who had crashed his commercial helicopter in what had been a driving snowstorm.

    Fletcher and a support contractor quickly jumped into a 72-foot torpedo retriever boat and came to the aid of Patriarca, who was straddling one of the pontoons of his now-submerged aircraft. Fletcher tossed the man a rope and pulled him to safety. Having lost partial use of his hands and legs because of the frigid water temperature, Patriarca was taken to the Naval Hospital, where he was treated for a mild case of hypothermia.

    “I’m just glad the guy’s all right,” Fletcher told reporters the day after the incident. “The only thing I was concerned about was getting him into something warm.”

    Thirteen months later, Fletcher was not as fortunate while helping conduct routine torpedo tests. He was riding in a Cessna 152 single-engine plane piloted by Michael Pratt when it crashed five miles east of Point Judith in Narragansett. Pratt was able to escape from the wreckage and was pulled from the 38-degree water, but Fletcher was not immediately located.

    After an extensive search, his body was pulled from the water on Jan. 22, 1988. It is believed Fletcher was unable to extract himself from the aircraft before it sank.

    Born on Nov. 7, 1949, Fletcher left behind a wife, Margaret Rankin Fletcher, and two daughters, Jade Lauren Fletcher and Trinity Elise Fletcher. A memorial fund was established in his name.

    NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.



    Date Taken: 05.23.2024
    Date Posted: 05.23.2024 15:22
    Story ID: 472161

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