Sailors remembered as great men

  • Fri Apr 25th, 2014 8:57pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

EVERETT — A Navy memorial service for Cmdr. John Regelbrugge III and Chief Petty Officer Billy Spillers brought together their families, friends, shipmates and elected officials at Naval Station Everett on Friday afternoon.

Regelbrugge and his wife, Kris, and Spillers and three of his children lost their lives in the massive mudslide March 22 on Highway 530 east of Oso.

Regelbrugge and Spillers were serving with the Everett maintenance detachment of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at the time of their deaths. Earlier this spring, Regelbrugge was named the officer in charge of the detachment.

Flags from 50 states blew in the breeze on the sunny afternoon as Navy Band Northwest played a prelude in the courtyard outside the base Commons.

The families entered the courtyard led by Jonielle Spillers and her son, Jacob, 4, followed by four of the Regelbrugge siblings.

On the morning of the landslide, Billy Spillers, 30, was home with Jacob, daughters Kaylee, 5, and Brooke, 2, and stepson Jovon Mangual, 13. Only Jacob survived the disaster. His wife, Jonielle, was at work.

A native of Pennsylvania, Spillers joined the Navy in 2002. Among other awards and honors, Spillers was serving on the Everett-based USS Momsen when he was named Destroyer Squadron 9 Sailor of the Year for 2009.

John Regelbrugge, 49, served 32 years in the Navy, 20 of those at sea. The native Californian joined the Navy in 1982 and in 2013 completed his 13th overseas deployment, this time aboard the Bremerton-based aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

Regelbrugge’s body was found by two brothers and two sons. His wife, Kris, is one of two people who have not yet been located in the debris left by the mudslide. So far, 41 people have been recovered and identified as victims.

The Regelbrugges are survived by two daughters, Sara and Shante; three sons, Kyle, Scott and Brian; and two grandchildren.

Navy Capt. Steve F. Williamson said Spillers and Regelbrugge were great men, husbands, fathers, sons, friends and shipmates.

“I thank them for leaving a legacy we are proud of,” Williamson said.

Navy Region Northwest chaplain Capt. John A. Swanson, a friend of Regelbrugge, served with him aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

“John loved going to sea,” Swanson said. “He was the consummate professional and his expertise was unparalleled. He had a quick wit and a good sense of humor. But above all he genuinely cared about his sailors. They were his extended family. He never asked anyone to do what he would not do himself. I will miss you, John and Kris.”

Senior Chief Petty Officer Eric Payne served with Spillers on the Momsen.

“Billy had high ethical standards,” Payne said. “He was a natural trainer and always willing to help. He had a profound personal and professional impact on my life.”

The ceremony concluded with playing of taps by a lone trumpeter. The traditional nature of the service gave way at that point to tears.

Navy personnel assembled, then stood and gave Spillers and Regelbrugge a final salute.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.