More than 1,000 mourners gathered Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy chapel to say goodbye to Midshipman Hans P. Loewen, remembered as an adventurous, vibrant, funny man whose company mates summed him up in a phrase: "Live like a warrior."
Loewen, 20, of Hampstead, N.C., a midshipman third class majoring in oceanography who was planning to graduate in 2016, died March 29, a week after a skateboarding accident at Assateague State Park left him in a coma.
He was the third midshipman to die this year — one was killed in an accident and another, an academy football player, collapsed last month on a practice field suffering brain swelling and bleeding; he died three days later.
"This has been probably the darkest time I've had in the brigade," said Midshipman First Class Wes Althaus, commander of the 147-member 7th Company, to which Loewen belonged. "It's been hard to get back into the swing of things after losing three members of the brigade," he said just before the funeral service began.
The brigade comprises about 4,400 midshipmen, about a quarter of whom filed into the chapel on a mild spring afternoon.
The Naval Academy Band played "Abide with Me" at noon as an eight-member ceremonial guard in black uniforms, white sailor caps, kerchiefs and belts lifted Loewen's black coffin draped in an American flag from the hearse and carried it up the steps into the chapel. A procession of about 1,000 midshipmen in black service dress uniforms followed, filling the pews in the lower level as the organist played "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," the bass notes reverberating off the chapel walls.
Marine Corps Maj. Carrie Stocker, 7th Company commanding officer, delivered the eulogy, offering her thoughts and those of Loewen's friends and family.
She said one friend who knew Loewen from middle school through high school in North Carolina said his best friend taught him "hard work and hard laughter are not mutually exclusive. ... Hans' life was thrilling, it was bold and admirable. ... His life is not to be regretted nor mourned, but celebrated, cherished and remembered."
She said Midshipman Second Class Will Lavis described Loewen as having "the aura of a guy who could do the impossible. Anything he put his mind to, he attacked with a fire unlike anyone I've ever known. ... He showed me how to live my life outside the confines of fear, and for that I will be forever grateful to him."
Active in the Naval Academy's Adventure Racing Team and Rock Climbing Club, Loewen was drawn to speed and thrills: surfing, kite surfing, longboarding, snowboarding, dirt biking, tightrope walking, diving backward into water off a high pier. Stocker acknowledged being a fan of Loewen's YouTube channel, where videos chronicle his participation in extreme sports.
He was on the high school cross-country team but didn't much care for running, his father, Eric Loewen recalled, as Stocker told the gathering. During one training run along a highway, he persuaded his teammates to wear their shorts as low as possible, effectively mooning every driver as they went by.
The 7th Company summed him up in one sentence, Stocker said: "Live like a warrior."
His family's pastor, the Rev. Pamela Stringer of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hampstead, conveyed thoughts from Loewen's older sister, Zatha, 21, with whom he was very close. A midshipman herself, she is scheduled to graduate this spring.
She said she made the most of the 20 years she had with her brother and understood "how incredibly lucky I was to have him as my brother. … If he was the only friend I had, I would be content."
The two siblings follow a generations-long family Naval Academy tradition. Family members were not available to speak Wednesday, but according to a posting on a memorial website by Loewen's mother, Jennifer Loewen, Hans' and Zatha's great-grandfather, grandfather and uncle on their mother's side graduated from the academy — a legacy that dates to the 1920s.
According to the Worcester County sheriff's office, Loewen was injured when he was skateboarding next to a slowly moving Jeep and fell beneath its rear wheel. The sheriff's office is investigating the incident.
The academy has offered counseling to midshipmen, faculty and staff as the institution reels from three deaths in two months. Loewen died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center less than a week after freshman slotback Will McKamey, 19, of Tennessee died there. In February, senior Max Allen, 25, an oceanography major from Chesterfield, Va., was found dead in his SUV after running into a creek on academy grounds.
"We've all been really good support for each other," said Althaus, the 7th Company commander, remembering Loewen as a guy with a great smile who could always crack up his classmates during their contests to maintain stern military bearing. He said he last saw Loewen the day before he headed off to his weekend camping in Assateague.
"I said 'Have a great weekend.' He gave me that smile, and walked away."