PACIFIC OCEAN – Sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) paused their busy schedule to remember the tragic events of the Holocaust during a ceremony in the ship’s forecastle, April 24.
The theme of the observance, organized by Stennis’ Multi-Cultural Heritage Committee, was storytelling. After an opening prayer from Lt. Cmdr. John Monahan, one of Stennis’ chaplains, Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 3rd Class Shanice Smith, the master of ceremony, introduced six Sailors who told the stories of Holocaust survivors.
Each speaker found and researched the experiences of a survivor that resonated the most with them. Then they wrote accounts of those events from the first person perspective and read them.
“It was eye-opening to look at someone’s history, what they had to do to survive and to be that person’s voice,” said Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Jason Caffey, from Corpus Christi, Texas.
Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Malkey Halpert, from Brooklyn, N.Y., shared a story from her childhood about her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor.
“I’ve done a lot of Holocaust trainings before, but I generally don’t tell people my family stories,” said Halpert. “I felt like it was part of something that people needed to know. It felt like it was the right time.”
She shared how she grew up in an environment where Holocaust stories were commonplace, how she uncovered her grandparents’ story of sacrifice and perseverance, and the importance of learning from the past.
“These stories we heard today are not just stories,” said Halpert. “They represent people with hopes, dreams and ambitions, many of which were destroyed before they had a chance to come to fruition.”
Following the stories, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) 2nd Class Anjessica Gabriel, from Tampa, Fla., and Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) 3rd Class Jonte Johnson, from Miami, recited an original poem about coming to terms with the tragedies of the past.
Capt. Mike Wettlaufer, Stennis’ commanding officer, offered these words in closing.
“This morning we had the opportunity to share a listening experience,” said Wettlaufer. “To have people from all different walks of life but wearing the same uniform telling the story as if it were their own was pretty powerful, and I am absolutely moved.”