When We Die: Burial at Sea

Exclusive to naval service is the burial at sea. It is haunting and mesmerizing on so many levels. The ocean is the deep dark abyss. We know more about outer space than we do our own oceans.  The mysteries of the deep are captivating and sailors the world round have requested that at the end of their lives, they are returned to that which they identify with. The allure of the sea is described in a poem by English romantic poet John Keats:

“It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell.
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!”

With words like that, it’s easy to understand the mystique and call of the sea. For as long as people have sailed the oceans, sailors have either opted to be buried at sea or had, unfortunately, no choice in the matter. Sea squalls and war took many a life. Those who spent their life at sea have a special reverence for the ceremony that sends the remains of their salted brethren to Davy Jone’s Locker.

Special precautions are taken for the body buried at sea. Ensuring the body sinks quickly weights are affixed to the casket or sail hewn. The ship is stopped and a ceremony resembling that of a normal land burial takes place.

While many may say that it’s simple and not that distinct from the services on land with the rifle salutes and order of services, there is something about the sea places an eerie sense of finality on the whole process. The spray of the sea, the isolation, the blue forever is where the men of who fought in the seven seas, on our behalf, now reside.

We pay homage to those who have sacrificed, we try to right our wrongs and we take a piece of those fallen brothers and sisters.  We mold that piece and make it our own, we take their legacy and keep it alive to remember them.  This is how despite the loss, we preserve the American Dream and press forward.


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