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Fallen sentry's family receives rare heroism award

Apr. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Mark A. Mayo
The family of Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Mark Mayo received his Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Friday before his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. (Navy / AP)
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The remains of a fallen pier sentry were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery April 25, after being posthumously awarded one of the Navy’s highest decorations.

The Navy presented the family of Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Mark Mayo with the service’s highest non-combat heroism medal for shielding a fellow sailor from a gunman who stormed the destroyer Mahan a month ago.

The events that ended in Mayo’s death occurred the night of March 24 at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., when he rushed after a civilian who had stripped the Mahan’s petty officer of the watch of her gun.

“With complete and total disregard for his own personal safety, Petty Officer Mayo immediately placed himself between the Petty Officer of the Watch and the assailant,” according to the award citation signed by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert. “While fearlessly engaging the assailant and shielding the Petty Officer of the Watch, Petty Officer Mayo was fatally wounded.”

Adm. Mark Ferguson, the service’s No. 2 officer, was to present the award in a private ceremony before the burial.

The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is commonly known as the non-combat Medal of Honor. Previous recipients include President John F. Kennedy, for his actions after the sinking of PT-109, and James E. Williams, the most decorated enlisted sailor in history.

Military decorations expert Doug Sterner said the medal is among the rarest given by the Navy. Sterner estimates that it has only been awarded between 5,000 and 10,000 times, though an exact number is difficult to pin down.

A tragic night

Jeffrey Savage, a 35-year old ex-convict with no authorization to be on base, attempted to board the destroyer Mahan around 11 p.m. that night for reasons that remain unclear. The petty officer of the watch confronted Savage, who was described as behaving erratically, with a verbal warning and drew her 9mm sidearm. Savage grabbed her pistol in an ensuing struggle.

Mayo, the chief of the guard, raced to the scene as the assault unfolded. The now-armed Savage was poised to shoot the female sailor when Mayo rushed in and, placed himself between them, said a security officer familiar with the tragedy, who asked for anonymity while the investigation continues.

Mayo was shot once in the front, then spun to cover the sailor and was shot three times in the back, the officer said.

Another security force member, armed with a 9mm pistol, and the Mahan’s topside rover, armed with an M4 rifle, arrived as these events unfolded and opened fire. Savage was shot three times and died.

Officials have not identified the POOW or the other sailors involved in the shooting, but said counselors have been made available to them, the ship’s crew and Mayo’s fellow masters-at-arms.

Mayo, a native of Hagerstown, Md., served seven years in the Navy. The Navy held a memorial service at Naval Station Norfolk on April 7, which was attended by his command, as well as sailors and officers from the Mahan.

The full citation:

“For heroism while serving at Naval Station Norfolk Security Detachment, Norfolk, Virginia on 24 March 2014. While performing his duties as Chief of the Guard, Petty Officer Mayo was alerted to a suspicious individual walking towards USS MAHAN (DDG 72) on Pier 1, Naval Station Norfolk. Petty Officer Mayo pursued the individual up the brow of the ship while both he and the Quarterdeck watch-standers directed the individual to stop and provide identification. Failing to comply, the individual approached the Quarterdeck, attacked and disarmed the Petty Officer of the Watch. After boarding the ship, Petty Officer Mayo realized that the Petty Officer of the Watch no longer had control of her weapon. With complete and total disregard for his own personal safety, Petty Officer Mayo immediately placed himself between the Petty Officer of the Watch and the assailant. While fearlessly engaging the assailant and shielding the Petty Officer of the Watch, Petty Officer Mayo was fatally wounded. His exceptionally brave actions saved the lives of four watch-standers and ensured the safety of the entire crew of USS MAHAN (DDG 72). By his courageous and prompt actions in the face of great personal risk, Petty Officer Mayo prevented the loss of lives, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

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