Navy Yard shooting victims and survivors honored

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recognized the survivors and victims of the 2013 Navy Yard shooting at a ceremony Monday, bestowing posthumous honors on the 12 employees killed that day as well as awards to those who helped in the response to the attack.

“The courage we witnessed . . . did not end with the closing of that day,” Mabus told an audience of more than 600 military personnel, first responders, civilians and family members gathered at the Navy Yard. “That courage endures today.”

On the morning of Sept. 16, Aaron Alexis, a civilian contractor for the U.S. Navy, entered the Washington Navy Yard’s Building 197, proceeded to the fourth floor and began opening fire. Ultimately Alexis would kill 12 people and wound several others, before being killed in a standoff with police an hour later.

The Navy Yard shooting remains the second worst shooting on a military installation after the shooting on Fort Hood in 2009.

“The memory of those killed that day will always burn brightly,” Mabus said. “The wounds seen and unseen will be carried to our last days.”

Mabus presented awards that included the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Medal with Valor, Navy Distinguished Civilian Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal to the 12 employees killed that day, as well as awards to other civilian employees, contractors and service members.

Mabus awarded the Navy Award of Merit for Group Achievement to organizations such as the Red Cross as well as other community programs for their service in the hours and days after the shooting.

The Navy and Marine Corps Medal was also presented to Navy Capt. Edward Zawislak, who was responsible for evacuating a number of victims to the roof of Building 197 and for rendering lifesaving aid to one of the victims.

“We just did what we would hope anyone would do in the circumstances and looked out for each other,” Zawislak told reporters.

“So many people did so many things that were heroic,” said Mike Gehres, a Navy Yard employee. “People needed help, and that was the issue.”

Gehres, who was on the same floor as Alexis when he started shooting, was in attendance to honor Bertillia Lavern, a former Navy Corpsman who performed CPR on shooting victim Vishnu “Kisan” Pandit, who ultimately died of his wounds.

While Gehres noted that much had changed since September 2013, the Navy Yard community had not forgotten the sacrifices made that day.

“I’m impressed by the continued remembrance,” Gehres said. “There’s a definite renewed focus on the mission and how we treat each other.”

Navy Capt. Chris Mercer, who received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions during the shooting, echoed Gehres’s sentiments, and focused on the importance of community in the wake of the tragedy.

“I think it’s important for everyone to see us come together, not necessarily to award but to be together again and to recognize what a tragic event that was,” Mercer told reporters.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a Washington Post contributor and a former U.S. infantry Marine.
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