Vets gather to honor those who died at sea

Annual waterside memorial draws 50 to Percival Landing

rboone@theolympian.comMay 27, 2013 

About 50 people — veterans, families and their children — took part in an annual waterside memorial at Percival Landing on Sunday to remember the men and women who served the country and died at sea.

The short but moving ceremony, which involves casting a flower into Budd Inlet, was organized by the Thurston County Veterans Council, chairperson Lou McElroy said Sunday.

The ceremony began with cannon fire, and then included the Pledge of Allegiance, a short prayer, a roll call of those who tossed a flower into the Sound, a three-volley salute and the playing of taps.

“The sea has claimed many of our loved ones,” said emcee Bill Doucette during the memorial. Doucette also is a member of VFW Post 318 in Olympia.

Among those who came to pay their respects and cast a flower was Bill Jenkins, 71, of Olympia, who served as a shipfitter in the Navy in the South China Sea during the early years of the Vietnam War, 1961 to 1963, he said.

A shipfitter is a kind of repairman aboard a boat, Jenkins said.

Another veteran in attendance Sunday was George Narozonick, 88, of Olympia, who also was a shipfitter in the Navy, working aboard landing craft that shuttled men to and from the Normandy beaches of D-Day and later the Battle of Okinawa, he said.

Narozonick recently received a Legion of Honor medal from the French government for his service in the war, and is set to return to France to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landing, he said.

During the Battle of Okinawa, Narozonick recalled being aboard a landing craft, shrouded in smoke so that they wouldn’t be detected by Japanese kamikaze pilots, only to look up and see a plane about 30 to 40 feet above them, speeding toward a battleship or carrier.

Prior to dropping atomic bombs, U.S. forces were set to unveil Operation Downfall, the land invasion of Japan. Narozonick doesn’t believe he would be alive today if that plan had been carried through. Narozonick served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946.

Desert Storm veteran John Bradburn, a member of VFW Post 7089 of Tumwater, has been coming to the waterside memorial since 1992, he said.

“The solidarity of veterans coming together pays tribute to those who have gone before us,” he said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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