Navy identifies Arkansas sailor as first active-duty military member to die of coronavirus

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The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, is docked along Kilo Wharf of Naval Base Guam in Sumay, Friday, April 3, 2020. The aircraft carrier, with a crew of nearly 5,000, is docked in Guam, and the Navy has said as many as 3,000 will be taken off the ship and quarantined by Friday. More than 100 sailors on the ship have tested positive for the virus, but none is hospitalized. (Rick Cruz/The Pacific Daily via AP)

(CBS/ AP) — The crew member of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt who died of the coronavirus was a sailor from Arkansas, the Navy disclosed on Thursday. In a statement, the Navy said Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., 41, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, died on April 13 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

He died 11 days after his captain was fired for pressing the Navy for greater action to safeguard his crew from the virus. Thacker was the first active-duty military member to die of COVID-19.

The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

Thacker had tested positive for the coronavirus on March 30 and was taken off the ship and placed in “isolation housing” along with four other sailors at the Guam Navy hospital. On April 9, he was found unresponsive during a medical check and was moved to the Navy Hospital’s intensive care unit.

CBS affiliate KFSM-TV reports that Thacker’s wife, who is an active duty member stationed in San Diego, was flown to Guam, arriving on April 11. At the time of his passing, she was by his side.   

The death was the first, and so far the only, among the crew of about 4,860.

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy said 655 sailors assigned to the ship had tested positive for COVID-19.The Navy said as of Thursday, 94% of the aircraft carrier’s crew have been tested for COVID-19, and 4,059 sailors have moved ashore. Six sailors who have the virus are being treated in U.S. Naval Hospital Guam and one of them is in the ICU due to shortness of breath.

CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that a Navy official Wednesday that about 60% of the positives on the Roosevelt have been asymptomatic.

The Roosevelt had been in a coronavirus crisis that prompted the Navy’s civilian leader, Thomas Modly, to fire the ship’s captain on April 2. Five days later – after having flown to the ship and delivering a speech in which he insulted the skipper, Capt. Brett E. Crozier, and criticizing the crew for supporting Crozier – Modly resigned.

Modly said he felt compelled to remove Crozier from command because he had distributed too widely via email a letter in which he called for more urgent Navy action to prevent a deeper coronavirus crisis aboard his ship. Crozier’s words angered Modly but were seen by others as necessary. Crozier received cheers and chants of “Captain Crozier” from the crew as he left the ship. He later tested positive for COVID-19.

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