Sea Scouts christen boat in memory of Sandy Hook boys

Members of Benjamin Wheeler and Chase Kowalski's families scatter the petals of 26 roses onto the water--one rose for each victim killed at Sandy Hook.

The Wheeler and Kowalski families scatter the petals of 26 roses onto the water–one rose for each victim killed at Sandy Hook.

A blanket of soft gray clouds hung low along the Potomac River recently matching the somber mood as Prince William County Scouts and Sea Scouters and beyond gathered to christen a boat in memory of the two Tiger Cub Scouts killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year.

There to commemorate the Aug. 17 launching of the boat “Benjamin Chase” were the parents of the two boys: David and Francine Wheeler, parents of Benjamin Wheeler, 6; and Steve and Rebecca Kowalski, parents of Chase Kowalski, 7, who traveled from Connecticut when they heard a Sea Scout unit wanted to name its new boat after their sons. Also attending were the boys’ siblings, grandparents, and representatives of their Cub Scout Pack, 170.

Skipper Todd Skiles, scoutmaster of Sea Scout Ship 100, of Gainesville, was once a Tiger Cub den leader, working with young boys like Benjamin and Chase. After the Sandy Hook shooting, the Boy Scouts of America published a photo of two empty Tiger Cub hats and “it hit me hard,” said Skiles.

Skiles became determined to remember the boys and he thought the best way was to name the scouting unit’s new boat after them.

The Sea Scouts received the Catalina 22 as a donation and painted the hull navy blue to match the color of a Cub Scout uniform shirt, then stenciled the name “Benjamin Chase” onto the side of the boat in 10-inch letters, visible to boaters and people on the shore.

The event began with a formal flag ceremony at Leesylvania State Park. During the blessing of the boat ceremony, Ship 100’s Boatswain and Boatswain’s Mate presented two copies of a plaque to the parents of Benjamin and Chase.

As they did, the Scouts carried the plaques over the traditional Boy Scout crossover bridge, symbolically giving the late Tiger Cub Scouts “the crossover ceremony that they should have had.” The Boatswain’s Mate then rang the eight bells of the last watch.

Every time it sails, the “Benjamin Chase” will “parade their names up and down the Potomac,” said Skiles during the blessing ceremony, “past monuments and memorials and the houses of our founding fathers: Gunston Hall and Mount Vernon” and sail them past the great fortresses that remind us of our freedom: Quantico Marine Corps base, Bolling Air Force Base, and Fort Belvoir, (so people will) remember their names.”

The families were escorted down the gangway, flanked by four side boys, to stand next to the boat during a brief christening in the Catholic tradition. Then they boarded the boat named after the children whose lives were taken from them.

Out on the river, with other boats of family and friends nearby as witness, the parents and siblings of the Tiger Cubs scattered the petals of 26 roses, one for each of the victims of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook.

As the boats quietly filed back toward shore, the crew of Fairfax County Fireboat 420 discharged the vessel’s hoses in a fireboat fountain to honor the Scouts.

The crowd of more than 100 people was highly sympathetic to the families of the slain boys, yet some said that it was difficult to meet their parents.

“I have no reference for what they’ve been through,” said Skiles. “We want to honor the memory of their boys, but there was also the fear of intruding. I think they understood how much the community has embraced them in support.”

Ship 100 scout participants were Boatswain Ryan Stark and Boatswain’s Mate Kayleigh Mancini, as well as those making up the Honor Guard: Griffen Hedrick, Jonathan Mancini, and Elijah Potts. The Sea Scouts performed their duties in their formal dress white uniform, which looks very much like the US Navy’s traditional “Crackerjack.”

Woodbridge Sailing School offered its docking area, boats, and skippers and Quantico Yacht Club was represented by two of its officers and their families. Also supporting the event were Boy Scout Troop 91, Troop 581 and Pack 91, and Sea Scout ships 212, 548, 1942 and 7916, as well as the commodore of the Sea Scout Chesapeake Flotilla.

Originally published by Prince William Today

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