Community Pitches In to Help USS Fitzgerald's Crew

Volunteers tailoring uniforms for the Fitzgerald's crew (7th Fleet / USN)

By The Maritime Executive 06-22-2017 09:33:50

The military community is collecting donations and pitching in to help sailors who lost their possessions in the flooded berthing areas of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald. The destroyer collided with the Philippine-flagged container vessel ACX Crystal in the early hours of Saturday morning, flooding three compartments, killing seven crewmembers and injuring three more. Many of the survivors lost everything they had in the destroyer's damaged berthing compartments, including phones, financial documents, uniforms and civilian clothing. Their fellow servicemembers, their families and multiple relief groups are pooling resources to help out. 

On Thursday, Stars and Stripes gave an overview of the charitable effort: In Yokosuka, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) is providing them with free clothing and with cash assistance as needed. Donations of dress blue uniforms are reportedly in high demand, and local volunteers are providing basic tailoring and alterations for free.The USO is providing free toiletry kits, hot meals and 24-hour access to its facilities, and the Red Cross' response team is giving out gift cards for immediate cash assistance for affected crewmembers. 

The USO, Red Cross and NMCRS are all accepting donations given in recognition of the Fitzgerald disaster, with details available on their websites. (Note: not all of these groups can track each donation’s use for specific relief efforts or individuals.) Informal groups are raising funds for the crew and their families via campaigns on GoFundMe.com.

"The outpouring of support by the Yokosuka and broader community has been stunning," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson in a statement released Thursday. "Everything from toothpaste and uniforms to financial assistance has been offered and we are very grateful to all who are helping this team get back to fighting trim." The admiral did not mention whether the Navy would provide the Fitzgerald's crew with a supplementary clothing allowance or other forms of relief. 

Investigations continue

In multiple op-eds and interviews, military and industry observers have attempted to offer insights into the cause of the collision. On Thursday, Adm. Richardson cautioned against reaching any conclusions before the government investigations are complete. "Speculation, rumors, hearsay or second guessing won't be helpful. Let the investigations run their courses," he said.

Separate U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Japan Coast Guard inquiries into the cause of the collision continue. The Japan Coast Guard has retrieved the ACX Crystal's VDR and is interviewing the vessel's Philippine crew. As of Thursday, the Crystal remained at berth in Yokohama. 

Heroism and hard decisions aboard the Fitzgerald

New details emerged Thursday about the response efforts aboard the Fitzgerald in the minutes just after the collision. Early this week, Adm. Richardson credited the crew with taking timely action to save their ship; the Washington Post revealed today that this damage control effort came at a cost. After several daring rescue attempts in the rapidly-flooding compartments, the crew had to decide whether to close watertight doors to limit the threat to the vessel's stability. They did not know how many of their crewmates were left in the damaged berthing areas, but they had to choose, and they closed the doors. Seven sailors perished in these compartments, and it is unknown whether they died before or after the decision to seal the doors. 

Unconfirmed reports suggest that one crewmember, Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., rescued as many as 20 sailors from the damaged compartments. When the doors closed, he was trapped on the wrong side, and he did not survive. “He went back to get the other ones and I guess from what I understand they had to close the hatch, because the ship was taking on water,” said Gary's uncle, Stanley Rehm, speaking to WKYC. “He died a hero trying to save the people on his ship.”