in West Jefferson that the first person he noticed was a young 18-year-old Jacob Drake. “I thought he looked terrified, like, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’ I legitimately felt bad for the kid.”
But everyone who’d ever met Drake — with his thin frame, short stature, goofy smile, kind heart, and love of cats and all things pink — knew he wasn’t to be underestimated. They knew only of his ability to continually learn, to push on, to never quit, to never say no.
Rafferty quickly saw it, too, back in their basic training class of 2013: “Drake was the one I wanted to make it through the most.”
So it was with heavy hearts that Rafferty joined Navy officers, enlisted sailors and friends to eulogize Drake and tell his mourning family during a poignant, 40-minute funeral Saturday how much he had meant to them.
Drake, 21 and a 2013 graduate of Triad High School in Champaign County in west-central Ohio, was one of 10 sailors killed aboard the Sailors approach the Rader-McDonald-Tidd Funeral Home in West Jefferson, where more than 200 people attended services for Drake.
Navy’s USS John S. McCain when it collided with a merchant ship in the South China Sea on Aug. 21. Even as the Navy continues to investigate, those who gathered Saturday tried to put the awfulness behind them.
They came simply to remember that scrawny kid who eventually became a successful sailor, an electronics technician second class. They came to remember the son, the brother, the fiance, the civilian coworker, the best friend.
There was longtime hometown friend Tanner Stengel who spoke but a minute yet brought the whole place to
“Jake knew how to live. He knew how to have fun,” Stengel said. Other friends already had recalled how in high school, they all played “Call of Duty” and “Halo” — video games about military and war — through the night until they simply collapsed of exhaustion and slept on the basement floor. Stengel said they had a name for themselves: The Nerd Herd.
He couldn’t hold back his tears as he went on: “I speak for all of our buddies when I say thank you, Jake. Thank you for being a part of our lives.”
There was best friend Austin Bidwell, who summed up the selflessness and joy that was such a part of Drake. He recalled that when one of life’s heartbreaks came, it was Drake he called for help in the middle of the night. Without hesitation or question, he came.
“We sat there in the Walmart on the hood of our vehicles in the parking lot at 3 o’clock in the morning and drinking Mountain Dew. And he wasn’t even mad I woke him up,” Bidwell said. “He listened and was happy. That’s the way he was.”
Then the Navy officers shared their own tales.
Division Chief Josh Wing said he met Drake when the young sailor first came aboard the McCain. He said he was “ambitious, full of spirit and eager to see the world.”
He recalled how Drake always worked out so hard to try and bulk up his lean frame. It never worked. Yet he took all the ribbing in good fun. “Someone once put in the suggestion box that’s read to the whole ship, ‘Feed Drake two meals,” Wing said with a laugh.
Then he choked up. “He’s truly missed,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”
Lt. Christopher Griffin, another of Drake’s division chiefs, said Drake often took on responsibilities that were not his own just to ease someone else’s burden. He never seemed down, and he never spoke a disparaging word.
Then came Rebecca Holland, who read a letter from her deployed husband, Brandon, a fellow sailor of Drake’s and one of his best friends. Brandon Holland wrote about their “bromance,” joked about the matching T-shirts he made them wear, and said Drake was a proud and loyal American whom everyone loved.
He signed off with a Navy tradition:
He told Drake that his shipmates would take the watch from here.
With that, following the custom of full military honors carried out in the parking lot of the funeral home, a hearse drove away with the body of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Drake aboard, carrying him on an ocean of tears from those who loved him and a wave of only melancholy memories left behind.
Members of American Legion Post 201 and others pay their respects to Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Drake.