The U.S. Navy Thursday publicly identified the sailor from the San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt who died this week of COVID-19 complications.
Charles Robert Thacker Jr., 41, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, died Monday at the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, four days after he was found unresponsive during a daily medical check.
Thacker’s wife, an active-duty member stationed in San Diego, was flown April 11 to Guam and was by his side when he died, according to the Navy. The San Francisco Chronicle identified his wife as Symantha Thacker, whose Facebook account showed them with two young children.
“The couple marked their eighth wedding anniversary on April 5 while Charles Thacker was isolated in the base house in quarantine,” the Chronicle reported. “Thacker’s Facebook page included numerous photos of his wife, son and daughter. In his profile photo, Thacker is wearing his uniform and kissing his wife on the cheek.”
Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. Our number one priority continues to be the health and well-being of all members of the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group and we remain steadfast in our resolve against the spread of this virus.”
As of Thursday, six of the ship’s sailors have been hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms, one of whom is in the Intensive Care Unit “for increased observation due to shortness of breath,” according to a Navy statement.
The number of positive coronavirus cases aboard the carrier now totals 655.
In a December 2018 Facebook post, Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Symantha L. Thacker was depicted as ecstatic when she heard she was selected as USS Carl Vinson’s Senior Sailor of the Quarter.
She was called the leading petty officer for Weapons Department’s G-2 division, who “directly impacts the lives of 37 sailors on a daily basis.”
“Take care of your sailors, praise your sailors, support your sailors, and they will take care of you,” she was quoted as saying.
In November 2018, she changed her Facebook cover image to one showing a quote attributed to Dr. Seuss (but also linked to Harvey MacKay): “Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So, love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t, and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get the chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it would be easy. They just promised it would be worth it.”
Thacker’s hometown newspaper, the Southwest Times Record, quoted tributes by Rep. Steve Womack and Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton.
“Today, Fort Smith and the State of Arkansas mourn the passing of a brave patriot and sailor,” Womack said. “Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker, Jr. defended our nation and upheld his duty to serve and protect freedom. This is a great loss against an unprecedented enemy, and we must continue to amplify resources on all levels to defeat this virus and safeguard personnel. My deepest condolences go out to the Thacker family, his loved ones, and fellow service members. Though no words can heal the pain, our community sends prayers of comfort and strength during this time.”
Boozman said Thacker’s dedication to the nation was perhaps only surpassed by his tremendous love for his family.
“Petty Officer Thacker’s appreciation for the special things in life – particularly his loved ones and passions – reminds us how precious time really is and how this virus poses a threat to all of us, even the warriors dedicated to defending America,” Boozman said. “My thoughts and prayers are with the Thacker family and all who counted Petty Officer Thacker as a friend or loved one. We honor his life and service in uniform, and pledge to keep this proud son of Arkansas’s legacy alive in the years to come.”
Cotton said: “His service to the country has earned my utmost gratitude, and my deepest condolences go to his family, friends, and crewmates.”
In email to media outlets, a Navy Region Southwest spokesman said: “The family does not wish to issue a statement or be interviewed, and they have requested to be able to mourn their loss privately.”
More than 4,000 of the ship’s sailors have been moved off the Roosevelt. The Navy says 94% of the ship’s crew have been tested for COVID-19.
The ship’s outbreak garnered widespread attention following its then-captain’s publicized memo to Navy leadership asking for immediate assistance to move about 90% of the crew off the ship.
The memo’s publication on March 30 was central to Capt. Brett Crozier’s firing days later by then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.
Modly resigned less than a week later after his address to the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew, in which he called Crozier’s actions “a betrayal” and stated his belief that Crozier purposely copied his email to unauthorized parties to facilitate its publication, was made public.
“If he (Crozier) didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was a) either too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said. “The alternative is that he did it on purpose, and that’s a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Army Undersecretary James E. McPherson, a San Diego native, has been appointed acting Navy secretary on an interim basis.
Updated at 7:05 p.m. April 16, 2020
— City News Service contributed to this report.