By Amber Vaglica, Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Public Affairs
Hundreds gathered at the Needham Theater on Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Port Hueneme to rename the main gate in honor of the memory and sacrifice of fallen Seabee, Steelworker 3rd Class Eric L. Knott, March 5.
Knott grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska with a passion for helping people and building things. He enjoyed working on diesel engines with his father, Randy, and building backdrops for school plays. Days after graduating from high school, and following the example of his two older brothers, Bill and Tim, Knott enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Seabee in the Naval Construction Force so that he could build and fight for his country.
On Sept. 4, 2004, the 21 year-old Knott was two weeks into his second tour in Iraq with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 fabricating parts critical to enhancing security at Camp Fallujah when a 122mm rocket struck just meters away from the front gate. A few of his team members were wounded and Knott was killed. All four Seabees received the Purple Heart medal. Following the attack, the Seabee camp in Fallujah was renamed Camp Knott in honor of his life and sacrifice.
Chief of Civil Engineers Rear Adm. John Korka, Force Master Chief of the Seabees Delbert Terrell, Commanding Officer of NBVC Capt. Jeffrey Chism, Commanding Officer of Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Capt. Christopher Kurgan, as well as family, friends, and fellow Seabees from all over the country were present to remember Knott and unveil the main gate named in his honor.
“We didn’t expect any of this,” said Randy, Knott’s father. “We are proud to be here. Eric found his home [in Port Hueneme]; he found what he wanted to do. He was happy.”
Thousands of Seabees served in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a significant amount of them deployed to or transitioned through Camp Knott. It was a symbol of the service and sacrifices of their brothers- and sisters-in-arms and their willingness to transit through the gate from safety and into harms’ way for the ideals of freedom expressed in the oath they swore to uphold.
During the dedication ceremony, Korka, who served as Knott’s commanding officer in Iraq, explained how loved Knott was and still is today, as well as the importance of renaming the main gate of the home of the Pacific Fleet Seabees in his honor.
“No words will ever repay the debt and gratitude that we owe to Petty Officer Knott who stood for our freedom and defended the sacred traditions entrusted by our constitution,” said Korka. “But we can honor his memory by maintaining our ‘Can Do’ spirit, remaining the best builders and warfighters we can be, and by keeping our nation strong and secure.”
Although Camp Knott no longer exists in Iraq, naming the main gate of NBVC Port Hueneme after a junior Sailor killed in action honors the memory of all Seabees that deployed to Iraq and left a piece of themselves in service to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Throughout the ceremony, Knott was remembered by those he served with as being a kind-hearted, hard-working Seabee and friend who would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. Many fellow Seabees who were unable to attend the ceremony offered messages read in their stead.
“Eric wasn’t just a nice person; he was one of the sweetest beings I’ve ever met,” said Retired Steelworker 3rd Class Rich Menser. “He wasn’t just my shipmate; he was my friend and my brother. [He] will forever be missed by all of the lives [he has] touched.”
As the ceremony concluded, all attendees gathered outside for the official unveiling of the Knott Gate by Eric’s mother, father, sister, and brothers on a beautiful March afternoon.
Holding the ceremony on March 5 may seem arbitrary to the average person, but this day was chosen for a reason – it is the official Navy Seabee birthday. Seventy-eight years ago, the Seabees were formed during World War II.
Kurgan, Knott’s operations officer at the time of his death, commended Knott’s tireless dedication to duty despite 100-hour workweeks, 120-degree temperatures, and high stress.
“He always exuded joy, lent a helping hand, was committed to serving others, and conducted himself with honor and courage,” said Kurgan. “Eric Knott represents the best of America and what our service members are called to emulate.”
Port Hueneme is the home of Naval Construction Group 1, the Pacific Fleet Seabees, and the Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering (CSFE). Thousands of Seabees will pass through the gate named in Knott’s memory every year.
Lt. Cmdr. Steven Parks from Civil Engineering Corps Officers School explained one of the most rewarding parts of planning the ceremony was learning more about Knott’s passion towards his mission and fellow Seabees.
“It was evident that he couldn’t wait to get back to ‘Build and Fight’,” said Parks. “I was absolutely honored and humbled to be a part of planning this great event and want to thank all the contributors for their hard work to make it such a success.”