Small island, big mission: South Hadley native serves in U.S. Navy half a world away

Hampshire County
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SANTA RITA, Guam – A 1997 William J. Dean Technical High School graduate and South Hadley, Massachusetts, native is serving with the U.S. Navy at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam.

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jonathan Shewchuk serves as a regional mortician. Shewchuk has a background in grief counseling, funeral operations, and holds professional licensures as a licensed funeral director and embalmer.

“There are only 12 of us in the Navy,” Shewchuk said. “It takes a very unique person to do this job and I’m glad I’m one of them. It’s an honor. The job and the duties I hold are quite impactful personally and professionally.”

Shewchuk credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned while growing up in South Hadley.

“I learned the value of letting go of my attachment there to explore the world outside because there is so much to see and do,” Shewchuk said.

Naval Hospital Guam is comprised of the main hospital in Agana Heights and two branch clinics, medical and dental, on Naval Base Guam. The hospital’s staff consists of 516 active duty and 201 civilians, contractors, reservists and volunteers who serve more than 26,000 beneficiaries.

According to officials at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet headquarters in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the ships, submarines, aircraft and Navy personnel forward-deployed to Guam are part of the world’s largest fleet command and serve in a region critical to U.S. national security. The U.S. Pacific Fleet encompasses 100 million square miles, nearly half the Earth’s surface, from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle and from the West Coast of the United States into the Indian Ocean. All told, there are more than 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 uniformed and civilian personnel serving in the Pacific.

“I like the mortuary position here more,” Shewchuk said. “I am strictly focused on mortuary affairs and it gives me an opportunity to engage the community and the role of my job here aligns more to the civilian side.”

Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career, Shewchuk is most proud of completing his second bachelor’s and a master’s while on active duty. 

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Shewchuk and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes, one that will provide a critical component of the Navy the nation needs.

“My service honors those who came before us,” said Shewchuk. “It’s an opportunity, a unique opportunity and in my career in the Navy, it’s one in a dozen.”

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