Naval Academy friends gather as family to mourn slain officer

December 06, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

Hundreds of relatives, friends and shipmates gathered yesterday at rainy, wind-swept U.S. Naval Academy for an emotional farewell to Lt. Alton L. Grizzard, a star Navy quarterback killed last week with two other former midshipmen in a murder-suicide.

They filed slowly into the chapel, a granite edifice whose huge green dome dominates the academy yard. During an hour-long memorial service they remembered "Griz" as a charismatic team leader, an inspiring officer and faithful friend.

They came from throughout the country. There were Navy SEALS from the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Cal., where Lieutenant Grizzard was stationed. Classmates serving as officers in the fleet returned to the academy from Navy ports.

Lieutenant Grizzard, 24, of Bowie, was killed Wednesday with Ensign Kerryn O'Neill, 21, a 1993 academy graduate. They were shot by Ensign George P. Smith, 24, a 1992 academy graduate, who then turned the 9 mm semiautomatic on himself, police said.

Ensign Smith, who was at one time engaged to Ensign O'Neill, was apparently distraught that she would not renew their relationship.

Lieutenant Grizzard was a friend of Ensign O'Neill and was comforting her when Ensign Smith arrived at her quarters. The disagreement quickly turned to bloodshed.

Former academy superintendent Adm. Virgil E. Hill Jr. broke down several times yesterday as he remembered a midshipman he called a "son in spirit."

Admiral Hill told the mourners he was recalling the 1989 Army-Navy game -- during which Lieutenant Grizzard played a key role -- when the phone rang and he was told about the young man's death. At first, he recalled, he refused to believe it.

Cmdr. Albert M. Calland III, commanding officer of SEAL TEAM ONE, termed Grizzard a model leader.

Navy football coach George Chaump, who earlier said the former quarterback was one of the academy's "greatest" players, was among nearly a dozen who spoke.

Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the academy's superintendent, said it was difficult to explain a senseless tragedy, although it was part of God's plan. Turning to the Grizzard family, Admiral Lynch said they would always be part of the academy's family.

The Grizzard family, which requested that the service be private, did not speak. The lieutenant, the youngest of three children, is survived by his parents, William and Atha Marie Grizzard, and sisters, Atha Dale Grizzard and Mari Lyn Dolan.

The memorial included Psalms, hymns and a Gospel reading, ending with taps by the Naval Academy Band.

It was not surprising that Lieutenant Grizzard went to the academy, said Terry St. John, a family friend from Fairfax, Va., after the memorial service. He was the son of a Naval officer, and the family had lived in different parts of the world.

She recalled a gregarious young man who was "happy all the time," and once joked to her he had a talent as a hypnotist.

"He was a practical jokester," remembered a smiling Ensign Joseph Spencer, a fellow football player who graduated with Lt. Grizzard in the 1991 class. Ensign Spencer, now serving aboard the USS Trenton in Norfolk, Va., said Lieutenant Grizzard would always playfully make a clicking sound with his fingers next to a player's ear.

As mourners filed out of the chapel, a brilliant rainbow stretched across the academy yard.

"He lived life to the fullest," said Midshipman 1st Class Jason Van Matre, co-captain of this year's Navy football team, who was a freshman when Lieutenant Grizzard was a senior. "Great guy on and off the field."

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