Memorial Service Honors Washington Navy Yard Victims
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 22, 2013 President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel were among the national leaders who gathered today for a memorial service honoring those killed in the Sept. 16 shootings at the Washington Navy Yard.
Hagel offered his deepest sympathy to the families in attendance, “on behalf of the more than 3 million men and women of the Department of Defense serving across the nation and all over the world.” The military family’s thoughts and prayers are with their families, the secretary told them.
“Today we come together … to begin a long road of healing and recovery,” Hagel said. “It is a path we walk together. We walk with the families, all who loved the fallen, to help ease the pain, hoping that grief and sadness will one day end and cherished memories of those we loved so much will take their place.”
The secretary said the department also walks beside “those injured and scarred by this senseless act of violence to help them regain their strength, hoping the horrors of last Monday will soon recede and together we will recover.”
Every member of the department will remember the valor of the Navy Yard personnel, Hagel said, “and we will remember that in the face of tragedy, the United States Navy is once again responding with resolve.”
The president told the families of the Navy Yard victims that the nation cannot begin to comprehend their loss.
“We know that no words we offer today are equal to the magnitude, to the depths, of that loss,” Obama said. “But we come together as a grateful nation to honor your loved ones, to grieve with you, and to offer, as best we can, some solace and some comfort.”
The 12 lives lost at the Navy Yard are not statistics, Obama said. “They are the lives that have been taken from us,” he added.
The tragedy that took those lives was extraordinary and unique, he said, just as the lives of those dozen public servants were unique. But the mass shootings that have plagued America, he said, are “part of … what wears on us, what troubles us so deeply as we gather here today.”
“As president, I have now grieved with five American communities ripped apart by mass violence: Fort Hood, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, and now, the Washington Navy Yard,” the president said. “And these mass shootings occur against a backdrop of daily tragedies, as an epidemic of gun violence tears apart communities across America -- from the streets of Chicago to neighborhoods not far from here.
“Once more, our hearts are broken,” he continued. “Once more, we ask why. Once more, we seek strength and wisdom through God’s grace.”
The president said the issue of gun deaths in America “ought to obsess us; it ought to lead to some kind of transformation.” In other nations, he noted, similar killings spurred mobilization and change, “and mass shootings became a great rarity.”
The president said he senses “a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just, somehow, the way it is.”
“We can’t accept this,” he said. “As Americans bound in grief and love, we must insist, here, today, there is nothing normal about innocent men and women being gunned down where they work. There is nothing normal about their children being gunned down in their classrooms. There is nothing normal about children dying in our streets from stray bullets.”
The question now, he said, is whether Americans care enough. He quoted a doctor at a local hospital who treated some of those injured in last week’s shooting: “We are a great country. But there’s something wrong. All these shootings; all these victims -- this is not America. It is a challenge to all of us, and we have to work together to get rid of this.”
That, the president said, is “the wisdom we should be taking away from this tragedy, and so many others.”
Obama said the nation should ask what can be done to keep such incidents from continuing to occur.
“I do not accept that we cannot find a common-sense way to preserve our traditions, including our basic Second Amendment freedoms and the rights of law-abiding gun owners, while at the same time reducing the gun violence that unleashes so much mayhem on a regular basis,” he said.
The question to Americans in not whether they care, he said, but whether “we care enough.”
“Do we care enough to do everything we can to spare other families the pain that is felt here today?” he asked. “Our tears are not enough. Our words and our prayers are not enough. If we really want to honor these 12 men and women, if we really want to be a country where we can go to work, and go to school, and walk our streets free from senseless violence, without so many lives being stolen by a bullet from a gun, we’re going to have to change.”
Wisdom does not come from tragedy or resignation in the fallibility of man, Obama said.
“Wisdom comes through the recognition that tragedies such as this are not inevitable, and that we possess the ability to act, and to change, and to spare others the pain. … In our grief, let us seek that grace,” he said.
Killed in the attack were:
-- Michael Arnold, 59, of Lorton, Va.
-- Sylvia Frasier, 53, of Waldorf, Md.
-- Kathy Gaarde, 62, of Woodbridge, Va.
-- John Roger Johnson, 73, of Derwood, Md.
-- Frank Kohler, 50, of Tall Timbers, Md.
-- Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46, of Waldorf, Md.
-- Vishnu Shalchendia Pandit, 61, of North Potomac, Md.
-- Arthur Daniels, 51, of Washington.
-- Mary Francis Knight, 51, of Reston, Va.
-- Gerald L. Read, 58, of Alexandria, Va.
-- Martin Bodrog, 54, of Annandale, Va.
-- Richard Michael Ridgell, 52, of Westminster, Md.
Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist who is alleged to have been the shooter, was killed in a gun battle with police.