Norfolk Naval Shipyards honors the fallen ahead of Memorial Day

Norfolk Naval Shipyards honors the fallen ahead of Memorial Day
Bagpiper Tom Metz, a retired Lt. Col. from the United States Army, performed "Amazing Grace" during Norfolk Naval Shipyard's annual Memorial Day Fall-In for Colors May 25. Photo credit Shelby West/DVIDS

Every year in May, our Nation comes together in an annual observance of Memorial Day in remembrance of the service members who sacrificed their lives in service to the United States Armed Forces. Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) Veteran Employee Readiness Group (VET-ERG) led the charge in honoring the fallen and bringing the workforce together, holding the annual Memorial Day Fall-In for Colors May 25.

“The final Monday in May is officially recognized as the day we honor our fallen service members – our heroes who died in the line of duty or due to injuries sustained while defending our Nation,” said VET-ERG President Josh Wannemacher. “The ones who paid the cost for our Nation’s continued freedom.”

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Gold Star Family Member and VET-ERG member Glenn Branchaud was invited to join the flag detail in raising colors during the ceremony. “Glenn, his wife Lisa, and their family experienced the tragic loss of twin sons, Sergeant Jason Thomas Chavis who was a Transportation Non-Commissions Officer in the United States Army, and Specialist Justin Allen Chavis, an Infantry Team Member in the United States Army. In 2011, Jason succumbed to his injuries he sustained during his deployment to Iraq and in 2016, Justin also passed away due to his service-connected injuries while deployed,” said Wannemacher. “It’s important that we understand that it is a shared cost as well – shared by the family members who think of their loved ones who are no longer with us on more than just the final Monday in May.”

“It’s important to remember those devoted heroes who lost their lives in defense of our Nation and honor those who had the discipline to willingly sacrifice their lives to protect their families, their community, and our country,” said NNSY Shipyard Commander Capt. Dianna Wolfson. “They had the responsibility to shoulder this burden with purpose and pride. They had the integrity to do what is right and honor their commitments to their dying breath.”

Norfolk Naval Shipyards honors the fallen ahead of Memorial Day
Norfolk Naval Shipyard Veterans Employee Readiness Group Founding Member Jonathan Echols joins fellow shipyarders and Sailors during the annual Memorial Day Fall-In for Colors. Photo credit Shelby West/DVIDS

She continued, “It feels particularly important to pause and reflect on that sacrifice today when we see democracy under attack in our world. Today we are facing ever growing and increasingly visible threats, from both China and Russia, which is why we must make every effort within America’s Shipyard to reach our vision to deliver on time, every time, everywhere to protect America. We must ensure our service members are deployed on assets that are unsurpassed in readiness, lethality and survivability. As ONE TEAM, our MISSION is to ensure our Navy members can do theirs, to their fullest capability.”

The guest speaker for the event was Commander Frank Gasperetti, NNSY’s Production Resource Officer (Code 900) who shared a story of his fallen friend, Lt. Col. Geoff Hollopeter of the U.S. Marine Corps. “During my 2020 deployment, I got some really tough news that after surviving many battles overseas, my friend Geoff had suddenly passed away from a heart attack,” said Cmdr. Gasperetti. “He loved being a Marine: he was leadership at its best, he was devoted to his wife Michelle, and although he liked to call himself a dumb Marine knuckledragger, he went on to study physics and astronomical science. I learned a lot from Geoff and he made an imprint on me on what an officer should be. We would talk about leadership, what it meant to lead with humility, how important integrity is and why it matters. He told me often to never forget, the enlisted service member knows more about the job than I ever will, it is my job to make it easier for them to do their job. He was driven to be the best model Marine officer.”

He continued, “Geoff’s death left an unfillable hole in the hearts of his family, his community and all those he touched. His friendships, his bravery and his commitment to duty will never be lost. I must continue to share stories of Geoff as we as a Nation must continue to share the stories of our fallen to remember what they sacrificed for the rest of us. Not many people decide for themselves to put their lives on the line to protect our freedom, defend our Constitution, and to volunteer to serve, knowing that death may be the outcome and for over a million military members, they made that ultimate sacrifice since the Revolutionary War. What we can do today, every day, is to ensure that those who make this choice and make the ultimate sacrifice can rest knowing they served with the thanks of grateful citizens and knowing that they will not be forgotten.”

The VET-ERG and Federal Managers Association (FMA) held a wreath dedication during the ceremony as well as crafted a symbolic Battlefield Cross out of personal effects of shipyard veterans to represent their fallen brothers and sisters. In addition, there were musical performances from the U.S. Fleet Forces Band including “Taps” as well as a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by bagpiper Tom Metz, a retired Lt. Col. from the United States Army. The Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (NRMA) Honor Guard provided a 21-gun salute to honor the fallen.

“As we take the time to reflect on our fallen, I want us to remember those as well with invisible wounds,” said Wannemacher. “As we work to build a better culture, I ask everyone to be attentive to those around you and to understand the resources available to our employees so they can have the best care possible to heal. Taking those first steps can be difficult but I ask you to be open and seek help where you can, and to look out for one another so we all have the support we need to overcome.”