Navy veteran without family receives funeral with honors

Roy Derrick was not alone when he was laid to rest on Tuesday, July 21.

The retired U.S. Navy senior chief ocean systems maintenance technician died in Everett on July 7, at the age of 75. He enlisted in 1968 and he retired in 1989 on Whidbey Island.

Throughout his career, he worked on the Navy’s Sound Surveillance System and was stationed at many naval bases in the Caribbean Sea.

Because he had no known family, there was a chance that he would have been buried on obscurity. He had no one to publish an obituary, but fortunately he had prepared for the end.

Derrick made arrangements with Burley’s Funeral Chapel nearly 20 years ago. When Burley’s closed, Wallin Funeral Homes picked up his contract. While he had no known family, plenty of mourners from the local community and around the state paid their respects to Derrick.

In her eulogy, Susan Wenzel, retired Navy sonar technician chief petty officer, countered the idea that Derrick did not have any family.

“He has a huge family,” she said. “Anyone who has served in the military knows what I am talking about. He has his Navy family. We are all his family.”

About two dozen people attended his service at Wallin Funeral Homes, some coming all the way from Arlington, Washington. The Patriot Guard Riders comprised the largest group. They were joined by the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, the local VFW post 7392, Oak Harbor American Legion George Morris Post 129, Oak Harbor Fleet Reserve Association Branch 97, Sea Cadets Orion Squadron, and a detachment of the honor guard from NAS Whidbey.

A few people who had personally known the retired senior master chief were in attendance.

Wenzel and her husband, Timothy, both worked under Derrick at what is now the Naval Ocean Processing Facility back in the late 1980s. Back then they were working as part of a top-secret, Cold War effort called Project Caesar. They worked in a windowless building that had a secret back entrance. They couldn’t even tell their parents what they were doing.

They themselves didn’t really know what it was they were going to be doing until after they passed their tests.

“They told me I’d be training dolphins to disarm mines,” Susan said.

They were actually maintaining passive sonar systems intended to detect Russian submarines.

Unlike active sonar, which emits a sound and receives echoes, passive sonar detects sounds created by whatever is in the ocean.

Based on his previous duty stations in the Carribean, Derrick was probably among the first oceans systems maintenance technicians, according to Timothy Wenzel.

He said Derrick probably wrote some of the tests they took to qualify for the position.

As junior enlisted personnel, however, Susan and Timothy’s interactions with Derrick were limited.

“He was more of a buffer for us for the chain of command,” she said.

Before delivering her eulogy at the funeral, she reached out to a few others who worked under or alongside Derrick.

They all said similar things about his quiet but nice nature.

Ted Duris, retired command master chief, worked with Derrick at the facility and got him a refinery job after they both retired.

“He was quiet but he was friendly all time,” Duris said.

“He met all of his commitments, and he was a person I could rely on. If I had a job that needed someone extra, he was there.”

After the service, Derrick’s funeral procession roared down State Highway 20 with an escort from the Oak Harbor Police Department and a fleet of motorcycles and muscle cars.

When he reached his little slice of paradise in Sunnyside Cemetery overlooking Central Whidbey, he was greeted by an additional 20 or so people.

Funeral Director Kelly Davidson, who organized the event, said she burst into tears when she rounded the corner and saw all of the people who were paying their respects.

“Personally, it’s been quite humbling to see what a turnout the community has,” Davidson said.

After a few more hymns and verses, the casket was lowered into the ground.

Veteran Dennis Jones, who met Derrick approximately 30 years ago at the VFW, thanked everyone for coming.

“He was a proud Navy veteran and quiet,” Jones said.

“He liked to sit around and have a cocktail every now and then and tell a few sea stories.”

Throughout his career, Derrick received the Navy Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, 4 Meritorious Unit Commendations, 5 Good Conduct awards, the Navy Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon, Pistol Sharpshooter Ribbon, Rifle Marksman Ribbon and the Flag Letter of Commendation.

Oak Harbor Police provided an escort for Roy Derrick’s funeral procession to Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville. Photo by Brandon Taylor

Oak Harbor Police provided an escort for Roy Derrick’s funeral procession to Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville. Photo by Brandon Taylor