HARRISTOWN — When the USS John S. McCain returns to sea, it will carry notes in sealed glass jars in tribute to Logan Palmer and nine other sailors who died in a ship collision a year ago. Those jars will be set adrift among the waves, carrying the thoughts of those who knew and loved them.
Among those memories will be those of Logan Palmer's parents, Theresa and Sid, who traveled to Yokosuka, Japan, to attend an anniversary service. Their son, a 23-year-old Sangamon Valley High School graduate, was an interior communications electrician on the USS McCain, a guided-missile destroyer that collided with an oil tanker near Singapore on Aug. 21, 2017, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead and five injured. His body was found six days later.
The service was held on Aug. 21 at the time of the collision and included speakers and other events to remember those sailors who had died in service to their country. During the memorial, each of the sailors was given their own tribute, and the 10 glass jars in which loved ones and fellow sailors could add a note were displayed. Those jars eventually will be left at sea by the USS McCain. Theresa Palmer said this unique portion of the service was special to the family.
“This was a more personal memorial than others,” Theresa Palmer said.
Theresa Palmer said she learned during their visit to Japan that more than 200 sailors are assigned to the ship, and 81 sailors who were on the ship during the collision are still part of the crew. The four families that attended met the USS McCain’s new commander Cmdr. Micah Murphy, who conducted the tour of the ship.
“We got to go on the ship and see where he lived and died,” Theresa Palmer said of their visit, which included traveling to other areas of Japan with an American sponsor as their guide.
The Palmers had not planned to attend the memorial service, but the Aug. 10 stabbing death of Cody Drew, a childhood friend of Logan's, changed their minds, Theresa Palmer said. Although the boys had gone their separate ways over the years, Theresa Palmer said she wanted to honor their friendship, and so she and husband traveled to Japan for the memorial.
“(The deaths) give me a different perspective,” she said. “You don't know how your words and reactions can make a difference for people who are hurting.”
As the ship sits in dry dock in Yokosuka, Japan, awaiting its return to duty, the aftermath of the collision still reverberates.
It had been the second major deadly collision of a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific last year. Two months earlier, the USS Fitzgerald and a civilian merchant ship collided near Yokosuka, Japan, killing seven sailors. Navy investigations found that the collisions were "avoidable" and, in part, caused by the intense operational pace the fleet has maintained in recent years.
In the wake of the collisions, the Navy instituted reforms to shore-up training and alertness at sea.
The collisions also led to the removal and disciplinary punishments of several high profile Pacific fleet and ships officers.
In June, the owners of the ship that collided with the McCain filed a lawsuit asking a court to free it from liability claims or strictly limit how much the Navy and the families of sailors who died or were injured can sue for compensation.
Hundreds attended Logan Palmer's funeral Sept. 11 in Life Foursquare Church in Decatur. He was buried with full military honors in Harristown Cemetery. He was posthumously promoted to petty officer 2nd class.
During their visit to the USS McCain for the memorial, the families were treated with honor, said Theresa Palmer, noting that the sailors are still recovering, too.
“The sailors are very sweet, but they are still hurting,” she said.