The Coast Guard carries out dozens of burials at sea in a given year, but one World War II veteran got a unique farewell.
On Sept. 29, Station Atlantic City fulfilled the final wishes of service veteran Andrew Haines, a New Jersey resident who died in late August at age 89. Haines spent more than a decade planning his own Norse-style send-off — a self-built funeral ship to carry his cremated ashes, which was then to be ignited with a flare.
“Oh, I was thrilled,” Haines’ son Andy told Navy Times. “I was thrilled when the Coast Guard called and told me we were doing it my way.”
Haines said his father, a World War II veteran who finished his tour at Atlantic City, had been planning his funeral for years. Andrew Haines emigrated from Norway as a child in 1927 and had stayed connected to his Scandinavian heritage throughout his life.
About 10 years ago, Andy said, Haines’ cousin in Norway sent him blueprints for a 100-foot wooden ship, which he scaled down as small as two feet, as a small construction project.
“When I came over to the house one day with the wife and one grandson, we were in the basement, and he’s got the whole bottom shell done with the deck, getting ready to put the rest of the stuff on,” Andy recalled.
Then Andy had an idea. He asked his father if he still wanted to be cremated, and he said he did.
“So I said, ‘How about if we try to make a Viking funeral out of this for you?’ ” he recalled.
Haines built five versions of the ship, his son said, settling on a 54-inch version for the ceremony.
More remarkable, Haines built the boats one-handed. He lost an arm in a 1975 boating accident, which ended his career as a commercial fisherman for Atlantic City Fisheries, the family business.
In his retirement, however, he became active in amputee golf tournaments, his son said.
He passed away of natural causes on Aug. 26. After his cremation, Andy filed paperwork with the Coast Guard to have his father buried at sea.
“Burial at sea is not that uncommon,” Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Christopher Fonseca, Atlantic City’s operations officer, told Navy Times. “We probably do about seven a year just at Atlantic City.”
Once the station came up with a plan to safely bring the wooden boat out to sea and set it on fire, they coordinated with the family to set up a ceremony. Fonseca said about 30 people came to say goodbye to Haines ashore.
After a group memorial, a few close family members and a preacher rode out on a 47-foot motor boat with Fonseca’s team, as the rest of the party threw flowers into the water behind them.
About three miles off the coast, Fonseca and his crew brought the miniature Viking ship down to a recess in their boat, lit the wood shavings inside on fire with a flare and sent it out to sea.
It took about 20 minutes to burn, he said. The family said some last words, and one crew member read a nautically themed Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, “Crossing the Bar.”
Fonseca said he’d done a few burials at sea in his career — they are free to any military veteran — but never one this elaborate.
“Scattering ashes and flowers is pretty much the norm,” he said.