Editor’s note: This story is part of a series looking at the effects of the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions on sailors, families of the fallen and Big Navy. To read more, go here.
Before he died aboard the destroyer Fitzgerald last year, Tan Huynh was a proud gaming geek.
The way his family remembers him, when he wasn’t busy working as a Navy sonar technician, the 25-year-old chose to throw down on his trusty Xbox console.
While struggling with the grief of losing him, they decided that Huynh’s final resting place should pay homage to his love of gaming.
They had an Xbox controller inscribed on his tombstone.
“We wanted his tombstone to be a reflection of him,” said his little sister, Mary Huynh. “We wanted it to be distinct and have his first love on it, which was gaming. He was a major gaming geek.”
Huynh also loved Game of Thrones, so his family placed a quote from the HBO show on the grave: “Never forget who you are,” the Tyrion Lannister line reads. “For surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness.”
A Navy probe into the Fitz’s June 17, 2017 collision with the commercial cargo vessel ACX Crystal in the Philippine Sea determined that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer was sailing too fast in waters jammed with shipping traffic. The report documented numerous missteps by radar operators, navigators and the warship’s leadership team that led to the lethal accident.
It also revealed numerous acts of heroism by crew members who kept the destroyer afloat but were unable to save Huynh, Xavier Martin, Gary Rehm, Carlos Sibayan, Dakota Rigsby, Noe Hernandez and Shingo Douglass.
Huynh was the only victim who was born in Vietnam. He and his family came to the United States when he was a child and he grew into a quiet man, his sister Mary recalled.
“Yet at the same time, his soul ached to explore and adventure,” she said.
Huynh joined the Navy in 2015 partly to honor their mother and he never stopped loving his niece Lylah and the rest of his family, she said. He drowned one day after his 25th birthday, the last time his relatives spoke to him.
“Tan was shy, yet when united with someone who had a distinctive personality like himself, there would be a bomb of witty and sarcastic jokes ready to detonate,” his sister said.
She now wishes she’d talked more with her brother about his Navy service and a military life he grew to love.
“The time he spent while he was enlisted was when we saw he was the happiest,” she said.
Like other relatives of the lost Fitzgerald sailors, Mary Huynh continues to grapple with both the loss of her loved one and the Navy’s handling of the accident.
“I have my days where I just want to shut everyone out and just think about my brother, alone,” she said. “Some days I feel guilty if I haven’t thought about him the previous day, because it makes me feel like we are starting to forget about him.”
“I don’t ever want to forget him.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.