Coast Guard Academy memorial for 2 cadets killed in car crash
Editor's note: This version corrects the spelling of Maka Kirkitadze's last name and Bersarion Gorjoladze's first name.
New London — They'd worked hard to secure spots at the smallest of the five U.S. federal military academies, which by law has only 36 appointments for foreign exchange students. They came to advance themselves with the intention of returning to their home country to serve.
As a fellow cadet and good friend explained, they were "of two different extremes" but at the same they had "one big thing" in common: they both enjoyed making people happy and making people laugh.
The Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday held a memorial service honoring the lives of Third Class Cadet Bersarion "Beso" Gorjoladze and First Class Cadet Soso Makaridze, both from the country of Georgia, who were killed in a car accident in New Jersey in early March.
"They were two special Georgians who did everything first in order to get here and then go through four years at the academy," fellow Georgian and First Class Cadet George Talakhadze said during his remarks, referring to Makaridze and Gorjoladze as "my brothers."
For many young Georgians, Talakhadze explained, going to school at a place like the academy "is a dream."
"Soso and Beso had this dream come true and they appreciated the opportunity," he said. "Unfortunately they did not get a chance to finish their mission. However, we still have the chance and we should make them proud by our way of life."
Makaridze had followed in the footsteps of his mother, Maka Kirkitadze, who works in the medical department of the Georgian Army, and his father, Aleksandre Makaridze, who is now in a wheelchair and retired from special operations for the Ministry of Defense of Georgia.
Speaking through a translator after the service, Kirkitadze said she was proud of her son for working really hard day and night to accomplish the level of English proficiency and physical proficiency needed to get into the academy. Most important to her was that he did it by himself.
Kirkitadze and Aleksandre Makaridze traveled from Georgia to attend the service and the reception afterward.
Gorjoladze was working for the Red Cross in Georgia when he got a notification on his phone that he'd been accepted to the academy. He started screaming, and everyone in his department was wondering what was going on, his sister who goes by Tako, 24, recalled, speaking through a translator. Beso explained that he got accepted to his dream academy, she said. Everybody just celebrated with him, she added, and it was a good day.
Along with Tako, Gorjoladze's father, Kahka, traveled from Georgia to attend the service and reception. Gorjoladze's mother was not present.
Those gathered in Leamy Hall for the standing-room-only service hailed from around the world, from the country of Georgia to the state of Georgia said Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz, superintendent of the academy.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, along with the Corps of Cadets, family and friends and many Coast Guard and academy leadership were present at the ceremony.
Three Georgian cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were there to show respect for two of their own.
"We unite here together with one purpose," Stosz said during her remarks, "to remember Soso of Echo Company and Beso of Foxtrot Company, and to celebrate the men they became and all they accomplished here at the United States Coast Guard Academy."
Stosz joked that Gorjoladze, in particular, would've enjoyed the limelight, to which many in the audience laughed.
"These cadets are my children too," Stosz said, adding that early on March 7 she received a call "that no parent wants to get."
Before the memorial service began Wednesday, a slideshow rotated pictures of the cadets with their classmates and the two of them together, and at one point there was a short video of Beso riding on a scooter.
"This quilt, this bond that you create as members of the corps, you're missing a strand today," Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, told the cadets.
Since the car crash, many cadets have changed their Facebook profile pictures to the flag of Georgia, also known as the five-cross flag, in honor their friends and classmates.
"I'm angry, frustrated and sad, but mostly I'm grateful. I'm grateful that they had the courage to come to school here, grateful for their families for lending them to us, and I'm grateful for their kindness, their smiles and their ability to make you feel special in the monotony of the day-to-day grind," said First Class Cadet Jalle Merritt during her remarks.
Merritt shared snippets of stories of the two young men that brought to life their personalities, like when Makaridze asked her about Ben Franklin, wondering "who is the strange man with the kite?" and when for Halloween Gorjoladze dressed like the main character, Gru from the movie "Despicable Me," proclaiming, as Gru does in the movie, his intent to "steal the moon."
Just days before the crash, the academy hosted Billet Night, where first-class cadets find out their assignments for after graduation. It was announced then that Makaridze would be returning to his home country to serve in the Georgian Air Force. Gorjoladze, a friend and fellow cadet said, wanted to serve with the Georgian Army after graduating from the academy.
"Soso and Beso were born in independent Georgia, that is to say they were born free," said Giorgi Khelashvili, deputy chief of mission for the Georgian Embassy.
"Their short yet dignified lives demonstrated eloquently that they wanted their country, our country, Georgia, to remain free and become a better place for their families and their friends," Khelashvili said.