Fort Smith native Charles Robert Thacker Jr. first COVID-19 death on USS Roosevelt

United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., 41, of Fort Smith was named by the Navy on Thursday as the first sailor to die from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

He was also the first active-duty military member to die from the virus, according to the Associated Press.

Thacker, an aviation ordnanceman, died at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam on Monday after being admitted to intensive care. He had been found unresponsive days earlier during a medical check of personnel who had been moved off the carrier. He was moved to the hospital on April 9 — 10 days after he had tested positive for the virus.

He is survived by his wife Symantha Thacker, whose Facebook account shows her and her husband with two children, according to the Times of San Diego.

“Thacker’s spouse, who is an active duty member stationed in San Diego, was flown via Navy Air Logistics Office flight to Guam, arriving April 11,” the Navy stated Thursday. “At the time of his passing, Thacker’s spouse was by his side.”

Thacker was one of the 655 crewmen aboard the Roosevelt who had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, the Times reported. The aircraft carrier has a crew of approximately 4,860.

Former Navy commander and Alma High School Navy ROTC Founder Roger Rickard said any kind of sickness is “almost impossible to contain” on a naval ship due to close quarters and operations. Rickard also said Thacker likely knew many men on the ship because of his rank.

“That could have been why he had the exposure,” he said.

Fort Smith Mayor George McGill said he was sad to hear about the loss of Thacker, who he called one of the city’s “fighting men.” He said his death is a reminder of how dangerous the pandemic is.

“We will keep his family in our prayers as we continue to get through this pandemic,” he said. Sebastian County on Thursday had 11 positive coronavirus cases and eight recoveries, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack — along with U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton — honored the life and service of Thacker in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

“Today, Fort Smith and the State of Arkansas mourn the passing of a brave patriot and sailor,” said Womack, the Third District Congressman. “Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. defended our nation and upheld his duty to serve and protect freedom. This is a great loss against an unprecedented enemy, and we must continue to amplify resources on all levels to defeat this virus and safeguard personnel. My deepest condolences go out to the Thacker family, his loved ones, and fellow service members. Though no words can heal the pain, our community sends prayers of comfort and strength during this time.”

“Chief Petty Officer Charles Thacker Jr. honorably served our country in uniform,” Boozman added. “His dedication to our nation was perhaps only surpassed by the tremendous love he had for his dear family. Petty Officer Thacker’s appreciation for the special things in life — particularly his loved ones and passions — reminds us how precious time really is and how this virus poses a threat to all of us, even the warriors dedicated to defending America. My thoughts and prayers are with the Thacker family and all who counted Petty Officer Thacker as a friend or loved one. We honor his life and service in uniform, and pledge to keep this proud son of Arkansas’s legacy alive in the years to come.”

“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Chief Petty Officer Charles Thacker Jr. His service to the country has earned my utmost gratitude, and my deepest condolences go to his family, friends, and crewmates,” Cotton said.

The Roosevelt has been under national attention after Navy civilian leader Thomas Moldy on April 2 fired ship Capt. Brett E. Crozier after Crozier called for more urgent administrative action to prevent more coronavirus cases on the ship. Moldy resigned five days later, according to the Associated Press.

Crew members who have tested positive for the virus are in isolation on Naval Base Guam and receive daily medical care, a Thursday news release from the Navy states.