Family Bids Farewell to Victim of Battleship Blast : Iowa Sailor Is Laid to Rest

Times Staff Writer

On a brass coatrack in a tiny room just off the sanctuary of the Costa Mesa Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hung the symbols of Geoffrey Scott Schelin's youth: a red Estancia High School baseball T-shirt, a worn catcher's mitt, an old pair of cleats covered with a layer of ocher dust.

Arranged on a table nearby were the symbols of his emerging manhood: a photograph of Schelin in formation with other seaman during a Navy parade, a letter of commendation from a rear admiral, a magazine article describing life at sea.

Friday afternoon, just before Schelin's large, close-knit family filed into the church sanctuary for his funeral service, they gathered in silence for a few moments around the lovingly-built shrine.

"You entered the Navy a boy, you grew to be a man, you died a hero," said 26-year-old Craig Schelin later, as he delivered a tearful and moving eulogy for his youngest brother, the only sailor from Orange County to die in an April 19 explosion aboard the battleship Iowa that killed 47.

The bodies of the sailors were returned to the Iowa's home port of Norfolk, Va., on Monday, where a mass memorial service, attended by President Bush, was held. The sailors' caskets were then shipped to their hometowns for funerals and burial with full military honors.

At Schelin's services Friday, the most often repeated theme was that he had come into his own in the Navy, and that in dying in service to his country, his short life had become a soaring triumph instead of a senseless tragedy.

"He performed his assignment well. He will be back at some other duty assignment after this," a Latter-day Saints official told the Schelin family, expressing his religion's belief that the earthly sojourn and the afterlife have purpose.

After the graveside service at Pacific View Memorial

Park in Newport Beach, at which a detail of Marines fired the traditional volleys over his grave, another of his older brothers assured reporters that the Schelins are angry with no one over the devastating blast in one of the Iowa's gun turrets.

"It was just a freak accident," Daryl Schelin, 36, said. "You probably had the best turret crew in the world in there."

He and 20 other members of the family were given a tour of the Iowa and its gun turrets Monday after it arrived in Norfolk. They were satisfied that every possible safety precaution had been taken on the vessel of World War II vintage, he said.

"There was nothing they held back," he said. "There was no unstable ammunition on that ship."

In the eulogy, Craig Schelin remembered his brother, the eighth of Darlene and Dale Schelin's nine children, as a confused youth without direction in 1986 after he graduated from Costa Mesa's Estancia High School.

Some of that confusion, Craig suggested, may have stemmed from Geoffrey's attempts to move out of the shadows of four older brothers. After he joined the Navy in 1987, and after a brief period of difficulty adjusting to boot camp, he began to develop discipline and a sense of purpose.

"I can't believe how much he grew in the last 2 1/2 years," Craig Schelin said.

Geoffrey Schelin, a petty officer 3rd class, had become so good at his job of supervising the loading of gunpowder on the Iowa's gun deck that turret captains were vying over which would get to keep him, the family said.

Bishop Bruce Hoggan of the Mission Viejo Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Darlene and Dale Schelin are members, said being on the Iowa was no accident in Geoffrey Schelin's life.

Given the choice of being assigned to any one of four ships in January, Hoggan said, Schelin "immediately chose this great ship, for this was the best. He was proud to serve among those who served on his ship."

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