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Navy sailor remembered as ‘great kid,’ steadfast friend

Published: Saturday, September 16, 2017 @ 3:57 PM
By: Barrie Barber - Staff Writer

A Navy sailor who was one of 10 who died aboard a guided missile destroyer was remembered at funeral services Saturday as one who was a steadfast friend, a sailor who took on extra duties without complaint and who made others laugh easily.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob “Jake” Drake served as an electronics technician aboard the USS John S. McCain when a tanker and the warship collided in the South China Sea near Singapore last month, according to the Navy. He was 21 and was engaged to be married.

At a memorial service days from his birthday, Navy shipmates wearing white dress uniforms from the McCain and boot camp, and friends who spoke shared memories and told stories of their fallen friend and colleague to dozens of mourners who both laughed and cried at Rader-McDonald-Tidd Funeral Home.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Rafferty, 28, drove more than nine hours from Norfolk, Virginia, to speak at the service of his fellow shipmate with whom he attended boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill.

“Whenever you go through boot camp, you get really close,” said Rafferty, who attended the funeral with fellow Navy sailor Connor Gaul, who also drove from Norfolk. Rafferty said Drake was a “great kid” to whom everyone was drawn to make friends.

“He had a unique personality,” said Gaul, 22, now a sailor aboard the USS George Washington. “He could make anybody laugh in any situation.”

Nearly two dozen members of the Patriot Guard gave a final salute of the flag-draped casket inside the funeral home. Navy sailors acted as pall bearers for their shipmate’s return home.

Nan Hays, of Marysville, didn’t know Drake but drove in from Marysville to pay her respects with two fellow Blue Star mothers with sons or daughters in the military. She said they wanted to support the family.

Friends remembered him as “fun and smart” and creative, someone who loved the color pink and cats and going to a cat cafe in Japan, where the McCain was stationed.

“Drake was a loved guy,” friend Josh Ewing said.

RELATED: Navy recovers remains of 10 sailors killed in USS John S. McCain crash

On a rainy Tuesday, hundreds of people, many holding American flags, lined the streets of West Jefferson as Drake’s remains were returned to his home state. His body was flown to Columbus and a procession was escorted to West Jefferson for memorial services and full military honors Saturday.

Vicki Germann, a West Jefferson resident, was among those who stood to pay their respects at the sailor’s homecoming this week.

“He supported us,” German said then. “This is the least I can do — is stand out here, grab a flag and wave it.”

The 2013 graduate of Triad High School in North Lewisburg had joined the Navy in part to travel the world and was stationed at Yokosuka, Japan. He was assigned about the McCain for nearly two years.

Some 400 people turned out for a candlelight vigil held in Lewisburg while the sailor was missing, said Mayor Cheryl Hollingsworth.

RELATED: Champaign County missing sailor: three things to know about Jacob Drake

“He was just a wonderful young man, which is indicative of the community,” she said Saturday. “… It’s just a very patriotic community. We’re just so sorry that Jacob died. It was just a tragic, tragic death.”

According to the Navy, the McCain and an oil tanker collided Aug. 21 near Singapore. The crash ripped open a hole on the left side of the warship’s rear hull just above the waterline and flooded crew berths, machinery and communication rooms. Five other sailors were injured.

RELATED: Champaign County town rallies to support missing sailor

The collision was the fourth to strike the U.S. Pacific fleet within a year and led the Navy to order a temporary pause in operations. In June, seven sailors were killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald when a collision with a container ship in the Sea of Japan caused significant damage and flooded sleeping quarters, according to reports. The Navy relieved of command the top three senior leaders aboard the ship after the deadly crash.

After the accident involving the McCain, a 7th fleet admiral was relieved of his duties. The latest crash led congressional leaders to schedule a hearing into finding the cause of the incidents.

Staff writers Katherine Collins and Parker Perry and The Associated Press contributed to this story.