Command Master Chief Kevin White visited Cameron Walters’ open casket Monday after dozens of fellow sailors had done the same. White placed the sailor’s hat, signed by his friends, in the flag-draped coffin. Then White, Walters’ senior enlisted leader, leaned in close to deliver a reassuring message.
“We have the watch.”
Walters, 21, an Effingham County High School graduate from Richmond Hill, was one of three sailors killed in the Dec. 6 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola. All three were students at Naval Aviation Schools Command. Eight others were injured.
Authorities identified the shooter as 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, who was studying at the same institution. A sheriff’s deputy who responded to the attack killed Alshamrani. The FBI is investigating the shooting on the presumption it was an act of terrorism.
On Thursday, the Navy posthumously promoted Walters to naval aircrewman mechanical 3rd Class.
“These sailors exhibited the finest warrior ethos and quick decision-making that undoubtedly saved many lives,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said Saturday. “They took action when it was needed most, with the same skill and professionalism that they’d exhibited throughout their service to our nation.”
Gov. Brian Kemp was among hundreds of mourners who honored Walters at Compassion Christian Church in Savannah. Many slowly filed past Walters’ casket and hugged his grieving family. Walters’ Navy recruiter, Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Morrison, presented the family with a small ornamental paddle that declares: “Beloved Brother, Son, and Shipmate. A Hero to Us All.”
A female vocalist sang “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Then Shawn Hygh, a family friend, told the mourners Walters had a comforting smile and a dream of serving in the Navy, like his father, Shane.
“Pensacola was his first assignment as a young airmen apprentice in the Navy,” Hygh said. “He was so proud to serve his country. And, according to his father, he couldn’t wait to earn his aircrewman jacket and continue to follow in his father’s footsteps.”
Hygh jokingly calling Walters a “cheeseball” who possessed a silly sense of humor.
“Cameron thought he was royalty,” Hygh said. “Some of us have a one-day birthday. Some of us have a week-birthday. Not Cameron. He had a two-week birthday, each and every year. If he was asked to do chores: ‘It’s my birthday.’ If he was asked to do anything he didn’t want to do for those two weeks: ‘It’s my birthday, Daddy.’ He also thought there should be cake each and every night for those two weeks.”
Hygh asked the U.S. service members, veterans and their spouses to stand so they could be applauded.
“Cameron was one of you,” Hygh told them. “Thank you all for your sacrifice for our country and our freedoms.”
The church displayed a photo slideshow of Walters as a boy hugging his family, taking a selfie in front of a mirror, sporting a festive sombrero at a restaurant and wearing a fake handlebar mustache. In the last photo, Walters stands at the bow of a small boat. His back is to the camera. His baseball hat is on backwards. His arms are outstretched as if he is marveling at the vista.
Hunter Cannon of Rincon spoke next about his best friend, calling him a “beautiful soul.”
“I have never met somebody with as much life as Cameron,” Cannon said. “The only time he was ever down was when he was asleep. And good luck getting him back up.”
“It hurts,” Cannon added. “Getting used to life without Cameron is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I am going to miss the spontaneous adventures. I am going to miss the good morning Snapchats every single morning. I am going to miss the hour-long FaceTimes. I am going to miss going to the beach. I am just going to miss it all.”
Six sailors in dress blue uniforms marched to Walters’ casket. Everyone rose and watched intently as the sailors escorted Walters up the aisle, out of the church and to a waiting funeral procession that wrapped around the parking lot.
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