Friends and family remember Manchester sailor killed aboard USS John S. McCain

Friends and family of Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Eckels Jr. gathered at Calvary United Methodist Church in Mount Airy on Monday evening to share memories and say goodbye to the beloved Navy sailor from Manchester.

Eckels, who graduated from Manchester Valley High School in 2012, was among the 10 sailors killed aboard the USS John S. McCain following a collision with an oil tanker while en route to Changi, Singapore. During his time in the military, he served as an information systems technician second class.


More than 100 people came out to the church Monday evening, passing through the lobby of the church filled with photographs of Eckels, from baby photos to images of him playing lacrosse, preparing for school dances and from his early days in the military. Guests included family members, high school friends, and fellow servicemen and women.

One of those who came out to share their memories of Eckels was his great uncle Bill Pinkston. Pinkston said the one word that described Eckels was vibrant.

“He loved life and he loved his family,” Pinkston said. “One of the things you might not know about him looking from the outside though is he was as humble a guy as there ever was.”

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps divers have now recovered the remains of all ten USS John S. McCain sailors who were killed last Monday, Navy officials said late Sunday.

Pinkston said his great-nephew was excited to join the Navy, and that he dreamed of becoming a Navy SEAL and worked on toughening up over the years to make that dream come true.

Fellow service-member Rob Milne said tough is one of the first words that comes to mind when he thinks of Eckels. The two met in the service, and Milne said he was the first friend he made when he came to command.

“He would do anything for anyone,” Milne said. “If your kidney shut down, he would rip his out of his own body. You could call him up at any time. He was just a nice dude.”

While he was known for his toughness and willingness to help others in the service, high school classmate Mike Mentzer said that on the lacrosse field, he was known as the team comedian.

“He definitely made an impact on people,” Mentzer said. “He was that person who always connected with people in a crowd. People always took note of how funny he was.”

Guests paid their respects in the sanctuary, as dozens gathered in the pews to silently remember him. After saying goodbye, they came out to the church hall to share memories, laughs and tears together.

Several of those who came to remember Eckels were his fellow shipmates who were aboard the USS John S. McCain during the collision. Joshua Soto said he met Eckels on his first day aboard the ship and was instantly impressed by his work ethic.

“He was a very motivated and talented sailor,” Soto said. “What we say in the Navy is that he hit the deck plates running from the moment he got on board.”

Another visitation will be held Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Alfred Street Baptist Church, 301 S. Alfred St., Alexandria, Virginia from 10 to 11 a.m., at which time the funeral service will begin. Burial will take place at Arlington National Cemetery at 3 p.m.