Navy Yard ceremony honors heroic actions at last year’s shootings

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Anna Giles

The Navy Color Guard positions the American flag and the U.S. Navy flag in front of the crowd in preparation for the National Anthem at a ceremony Monday to honor those who died and those who helped at last year’s Navy Yard shootings

Anna Giles, Staff Reporter

WASHINGTON—For Shannon Marchegiani, June 23 morning started with an explanation to her 3-year-old son about why his father is a hero.

Marchegiani, 38, a neonatologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was preparing to see her husband, Mike Melia, 41, an emergency physician at Walter Reed, be recognized for providing medical aid during the Washington Navy Yard shootings in September. She told him “that his daddy had been very brave.”

Melia was one of roughly 30 people at the ceremony, held at the Navy Yard, who were either personally recognized or accepted awards on behalf of a family member for heroic actions during the shootings.

“It’s always hard remembering. I always wish I could have done more,” said Melia, of Silver Spring, Md.

At the Navy Yard on Sept. 16, 2013, gunman Aaron Alexis, a military contractor, shot and killed 12 people in a chaotic scene that gripped the nation’s attention. Alexis died in the shootout.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who hosted ceremony, said it was a chance to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The memory of those killed that day will always burn brightly.  The wounds, seen and unseen, will be carried to our last days. The work of those three women and nine men we lost that day and of those who were wounded is critical to our nation and our security,” Mabus said.

When he first heard about the shootings, Melia was on his way to inspect a firehouse at Joint Base Anacostia–Bolling near the Navy Yard.

Melia said it was lucky he happened to be driving by. He had a car full of medical supplies and years of medical experience, which he used to treat some of the victims. His wife, Marchegiani, was at home when she received a text from Melia saying there was a shooting at the Navy Yard and that “he’d be in touch.”

He didn’t get in touch for another four or five hours, Marchegiani said.

For her, the ceremony was not just about honoring her husband, it was an opportunity to “honor the families of the victims and acknowledge what they’ve lost.”

The scene of the shooting couldn’t have been much closer to William Hilarides, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, who was in his office in building No. 197. He heard the shooter before he saw him. Security officials locked him and his staff in their office.

“There’s an atrium in the building with hard wood floors, and it sounded like the guy setting up the tables in there was dropping the tables,” Hilardes said.

What he said he remembers most is the ability of his coworkers to carry on.

“We expected there to be tremendous setback in the workforce. We expected people to have trouble coming to work and dealing with all the things that occurred that day. They did just the opposite. They came to work day after day to keep the Navy running,” Hilardes said.

Dave Harrison, 55, a deputy for Diving and Sub Rescue with the Navy staff at the Pentagon, was boarding a flight to San Diego at Ronald Reagan National Airport at the time of the shooting. The flight was grounded as a precaution. He later learned one of his good friends had been killed.

The ceremony was important for families and coworkers of the victims, Harrison said.

“Everybody here was close to someone who was a victim. They are all in different stages of healing. It’s important to do something like this to help bring closure,” he said.

Reach reporter Anna Giles at [email protected] or 202-326-9861